Last year, Google launched Project Loon as a first step in their endeavor of global internet access for all. Only one-third of the world’s population is online, and the other two-thirds lack access due to remote location, socioeconomic status, or lost network access after a natural disaster or war. Project Loon is a series of balloons that float on the edge of space, in the stratosphere, that enable internet access for computers and LTE-enabled smartphones. Since the first launches in New Zealand, the Central Valley in California, and Northeast Brazil, the technology and procedures have been refined and readied for the next stages of the project.
Google’s new partnerships with telecommunications companies, improved balloon technology, and better understanding of stratospheric conditions are making the balloons a more feasible option for global internet access. In approximately one year, Google has made amazing technological advances like increased airtime for the balloons (now over 100 days), better Wi-Fi coverage for users, and shared cellular spectrum to bring access to phones.
Google’s next test flight will be in Australia in partnership with Australian carrier Telstra, and it will be the biggest test flight so far. Each balloon transmits for over 600 square miles, and if the right weather data is collected, they could be a solution for uneven global internet access in the near future. The 20 balloons that will be launched in Australia this December will tell us more about the future of a connected world, and how soon it will be a real possibility.