Google Balloon Net – aka Project Loon

A Google Internet Node Balloon

How can wideband internet service be provided to remote areas of the world separated from large cities by dense jungles, multiple mountain ranges, large expanses of desert land, sea water, or other obstacles?

Of course, one way is via satellites, but satellites are expensive, have limited user capacities, and long round-trip communication latencies due to their great distances from users if they are in geosynchronous orbits 22,236 miles (35,786 km) above the equator.

Google started experimenting with another possibility in 2013 that they call Project Loon.

Project Loon

The idea is to have a large number of networked gas-filled balloons floating about 12.5 miles (roughly 20 km) above Earth. Winds generally blow different speeds and directions at different altitudes, so the hope is to be able to keep them properly positioned by adjusting their individual altitudes as needed in real-time.

A Google Balloon Internet NodeIt is a simple idea in principle, but with huge potential problems.

Can balloons be kept reasonably positioned that way over long periods of time?

Gas molecules will escape rather quickly through the smallest leak. Unless the balloons stay up at least three or four months on average a balloon communication network like that probably will be prohibitively expensive to maintain.

What happens when they come down?

Will airplanes hit large sheets of nearly invisible polyethylene plastic and crash?

Will large sheets of polyethylene plastic land on homes, business buildings, roads, or power lines?

Will they fall into lakes, rivers, the ocean, remote forests, and desert land, and create hazards, kill wildlife, and pollute the environment?

Google understands these concerns and is attempting to deal with them. For more information see Project Loon.  Also see Facebook’s networking idea.

What do you think about this idea? Is it a reasonable way to provide internet service to remote areas of the world or is Project Loon a ‘Looney idea?

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