Google balloons beam broadband to remote areas

Google is hoping to solve the problem of rural broadband with balloon-powered internet.

The company has launched a small network of balloons over the Southern Hemisphere in an experiment it hopes could bring reliable internet access to the world’s most remote regions, or restore it to users after a disaster.

The pilot programme, Project Loon, took off from New Zealand’s South Island, using solar-powered, high-altitude balloons that ride the wind about 12.5 miles above the ground, which is twice the height that planes fly.

[IMG ID=196156F]Project Loon balloon nearing launch at a test site outside of Christchurch, New Zealand.[/IMG]

Project Loon uses algorithms to determine where the balloons need to go, then moves them into winds blowing in the desired direction.

By moving with the wind, the balloons form a network of airborne hot spots that can deliver internet access over a broad area at speeds comparable to 3G, Google said.

According to the company, every balloon can provide connectivity to a ground area of around 40km in diameter. They use custom antennae to communicate with other balloons and masts on the ground, using the 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz ISM radio bands.

To connect to the balloon network, an antenna is attached to buildings below.

The 30 balloons deployed in New Zealand this month will beam internet to a small group of pilot testers, and will be used to refine the technology and shape the next phase of Project Loon, Google said.

Google didn’t reveal how much it was spending on the pilot project or how much a global network of balloons might cost.

Project Loon is one of several futuristic projects from Google’s R&D labs, following its self-driving cars, which are still being tested, and Google Glass.

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