​Alphabet's Loon balloons just beamed the internet across 1000km

Loon engineers can now boost internet coverage using a web of balloons connected to a single ground access point.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Loon, the former Google X project and now independent Alphabet company, has developed an antenna system that could create a far greater ground coverage than previously possible.

According to Loon each of its balloons, from 20km above earth, can cover an area of about 80km in diameter and serve about 1,000 users on the ground using an LTE connection. However, Loon balloons need a backhaul connection from an access point on the ground and without that connection the balloons can't provide connectivity to users on the ground.

But on Tuesday the company revealed it had sent data across a network of seven balloons from a single ground connection spanning a distance of 1,000 kilometers, or about 621 miles.

It also achieved its longest ever point-to-point link, sending data between two balloons over a distance of 600km.

The tests were carried out across California and Nevada, with the balloons punting data packets between each other from "desert to mountains and back again", according to Loon.

SEE: The new commute: How driverless cars, hyperloop, and drones will change our travel plans (TechRepublic cover story) | download the PDF version

Each of the balloons in that network was able to pass a connection to other balloons as well as serve as a connection point to users on the ground. The end result is a larger area of coverage to connect more people.

"Instead of one balloon utilizing one ground-based connection point to serve users, we can use that same terrestrial access point to activate a network of multiple balloons, all of which can connect people below," explained Loon's head of engineering, Salvatore Candido.

This could get around the need to build more infrastructure on the ground in order to reach more people.

"If we can extend our reach by passing that connection across a network of balloons, like a cosmic soccer team advancing the ball through the sky, we can cover far more people."

Loon expects to kick off its first commercial deal in Kenya next year.

The former X project was spun out as the independent company Loon in July alongside Alphabet's drone business, Wing.


Facebook abandons plan to build giant-wing solar broadband drones

End of the runway for ambitious solar plane with the wingspan of a 737.

Fujitsu teams up with Vault Systems to go after government cloud

The Protected Cloud product will offer software-, infrastructure-, backup-, and desktop-as-a-service to government users.

Planet analytics: big data, sustainability, and environmental impact

What is the relation between big data applications and sustainability? What is the net effect of improved efficiency versus increased resource consumption, who gets to measure this, and how?

Parrot Anafi (CNET)

Small, quiet and with a big feature set, the Anafi might just steal away some sales from industry leader DJI.

How Australia's government-by-parrot is flying backward on drones

If Australia wants to be a leading digital economy, the government must plan ahead with a clear head, not just react to the latest tabloid scare campaigns.

AI-powered autonomous drone could bring new capabilities to agriculture, logistics, more(TechRepublic)

The nano drone can move without human assistance and is considered the first of its kind.

Editorial standards