Alphabet’s Loon just took another large step in its quest to bring better Internet to rural locations.
Loon — who has the same parent company as Google — recently finished a 223-day stratospheric balloon flight, including a nearly 140-day spell in a single location in the Pacific Ocean. Maintaining a balloon in one area is key to Loon’s arguments that high-altitude balloons could be a viable technology for rural communities. Loon is also working to make its balloons last longer to reduce the need for replacements.
“Loon’s mission is to connect people everywhere by inventing and integrating audacious technologies,” said Loon spokesperson Scott Coriel after the flight ended Sunday (June 30). “By leveraging these advanced technologies, Loon is making it possible to expand internet access to the billions who currently lack it.”
The company’s commercial service will launch later this year with partner Telkom Kenya, and visible work on that project will happen soon. “We plan to dispatch balloons to Kenya in the coming weeks for network integration testing,” explained Coriel.
Loon does not disclose many revenue figures or business details, except to say it is an independent business within Alphabet and that it recently received a $125 million investment from SoftBank. Loon just graduated from X, Google’s research and development facility, in 2018. Some of its other milestones that year include announcing the first commercial partnership in Kenya and figuring out how to send an Internet signal across 7 balloons spanning more than 600 miles (1,000 kilometers).
Another big Loon win happened in early 2019, when global satellite operator Telesat announced it would adapt a Loon software-defined network for Telesat’s low Earth orbit global communications satellite. Both Loon and Telesat share the same challenge of trying to have multiple points of access communicate with each other, so Telesat bought into the technology out of recognition of the “synergy between balloons and non-geostationary orbit satellites”, or satellites that orbit at the same rate as the Earth, Loon said in a January blog post.
Loon is focusing on its Kenya deployment for now, but it does have a longer-term vision to bring stratospheric Internet to more communities.
“We think that connectivity solutions from the stratosphere will be a crucial component of the future connectivity ecosystem,” Coriel said. “As the only company with a fully-functioning stratospheric connectivity solution, we believe we’re well positioned to make progress toward our mission, and capture the opportunities that come with that.”