Since the very early days of the internet, the idea has been that the connections it offers should be truly global, as the early name of the “world web web” promised.
Now, Google is taking the next logical step in helping to fully realise the dream of being able to go online wherever you are on Earth.
Today, most developed countries have extensive high-speed connectivity via physical landline, satellite and mobile network access opportunities. However, some major problems exist in emerging economies and regions where current infrastructure solutions are simply too expensive to put in place.
Google believes it has the answer in the shape of a network of internet-beaming balloons in the stratosphere as part of the company’s forward-looking Project Loon.
The idea is to be able to offer a continuous data delivery service to people living below the balloons’ path, with the first test transmissions taking place next year in association with three of Indonesia’s mobile networks.
The superpressure balloon programme was first announced by Google in June 2013, when 30 of the inflatables were tested in New Zealand.
Vice-president of Project Loon, Mike Cassidy, said: “In the early days, the balloons would last five or seven or 10 days. Now we have had balloons that have lasted as long as 187 days.”
Other improvement include a slimmed down launch process and the ability to supply connected devices with about 10 megabits a second.
“It used to take 14 people an hour or two to launch a balloon, now with an automated crane we can launch a balloon every 15 minutes with two or three people,” Cassidy explained.
Each balloon is helium-filled and can reach stratospheric heights in excess of 60,000 feet. Although a single balloon only provides connectivity to a ground area of just under 25 miles in diameter directly below it, a ring of them will effectively create a much wider area of coverage.
“[We need] about 300 balloons or so to make a continuous string around the world,” Cassidy said. “As one moves along with the wind out of range, another one comes to take its place.”