Citing the inability to drive costs low enough to create a “long-term, sustainable business,” Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth announced the end of the project in a blog post late last week. Project Loon, which was spun out of Google’s Alphabet in 2018, aimed to use high altitude balloons the size of tennis courts to provide Internet to inaccessible places.
The project’s name referred to the airborne nature of the project and the fact that the idea could be seen as loony.
Though the project faltered, its accomplishment was anything but Loony, according to Westgarth. “[W]e found ways to safely fly a lighter-than-air vehicle for hundreds of days in the stratosphere to anywhere in the world,” he wrote at Medium. “We built a system for quickly and reliably launching a vehicle [the] size of a tennis court, and we built a global supply chain for an entirely new technology and business. We also scaled up our communications equipment from technology that could have been made in a college dorm room (literally: WiFi routers inside styrofoam beer coolers), to a communications system capable of delivering mobile internet coverage over an 11,000 square kilometer area — 200x that of an average cell tower.”
Mashable reports that some of Loon’s technology is being used – and thus will live on – in Project Taara, which provides Internet service to the sub-Sahara in Africa.
Project Loon participated in the response to Hurricane Maria. The FCC granted the company a temporary license to provide wireless service to Puerto Rico when it was devastated by the storm in September 2017.
The telecommunications industry has long sought ways to provide Internet connectivity to inaccessible or financially challenged areas of the globe and to rapidly increase coverage to areas during emergencies.
For temporary situations, such as in response to natural or man-made disasters, carriers can deploy creative airborne platforms such as drones, cells on wings (COWs), and satellite Cell on Light Trucks (SatCOLTs).
A longer-term approach is Starlink, a project from Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX) that uses a constellation of non-geostationary satellites to provide coverage that is lower in latency in comparison with traditional geostationary satellites.