Google is on track to have enough internet-beaming balloons circle part of the earth, specifically the Southern Hemisphere, by next year.
As part of the company’s Project Loon, Google-turned-Alphabet has been testing the balloons in New Zealand, Australia, and Latin America. The solar-powered balloons fly at high altitudes to beam internet connections to antennas on the ground.
Google initially had some difficulty testing the balloons. At first the company was manually assembling the balloons, which took three to four days to manufacture a single one. Small leaks would also cause the balloons to come down after a few hours.
There were also difficulties with the initial launch process — Google could only get one balloon out per day.
But the balloons can now last as long as 187 days, BBC reported, and the launch process has improved to get one into the stratosphere every 15 minutes with just two or three people. Mike Cassidy, vice president of Project Loon, told BBC that with these improvements, Google hopes to build its first continuous ring around the world.
The ring planned for 2016 will circle a section of the Southern Hemisphere. Each balloon provides connectivity to a 25-mile area.
If the Project Loon balloons are able to provide continuous connection, Google will roll its first beta to commercial customers, BBC reported.
Google hopes to eventually make a continuous string around the world, which would require 300 balloons.
Cassidy said he thinks Project Loon could turn into a $US10 billion business.
has run tests with several different telecos — Vodafone in New Zealand, Telstra in Australia, and Telefonica in Latin America. Google plans on splitting the revenue from new customers with whatever teleco ends up providing the LTE spectrum.
Google has said the speed of the service will be comparable to 3G, meaning streaming high quality video is most likely a bust.
Google also bought Titan Aerospace, the maker of solar powered drones, for internet beaming. Project Loon and Titan Aerospace are now owned under Google’s parent company, Alphabet.
Facebook is also looking to beam the internet to remote regions. The company recently partnered with satellite company Eutelsat to provide internet coverage to large parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has plans to eventually get into the internet-beaming service, but an executive said this week that there is “not a lot of effort” going into their plan to launch 4,000 internet-beaming satellites.
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