2 Jun 2014

Is Google’s Project Loon Really the Future of the Wireless Internet?

Is Google’s Project Loon Really the Future of the Wireless Internet?
The future of the internet, and particularly how it will be offered to those parts of the world with less access to technology, has always been a favoured topic on our blog. One company that is known the world over for trying things that others haven’t is Google, and this has never been truer than with an initiative they launched in June 2013. Known as Project Loon, the top-level concept is that this project will supply wireless internet to places that don’t have ready access through the use of balloons floating 18 kilometres above the earth. It’s an amazing idea and almost seems too good to be true – so we thought we’d look into it more closely, and discover whether or not it really is the future of the wireless internet.

How Project Loon works
The core concept of Project Loon works as described above: balloons floating in the stratosphere direct wireless broadband signals to houses on the surface – but there is a little more to it than that. The balloons work in tandem with receivers which will need to be attached to the outside of a house, office or other building on the ground. These look like blue orbs, and are connected to a regular router within the building, which then transmits the signals like a standard Wi-Fi network. The reason this is so innovative is that the process requires no wires at all, so even in the middle of Africa where there are no underground or overground telecoms cables, having access to wireless internet becomes a possibility. On top of that, Google engineers can also actively move the balloons using wind currents. This means that they can direct the balloons to places where internet access is most needed at the time.

Accessing the Project Loon network
Of course, even with a Wi-Fi network in place, not everyone has access to devices that can connect to the internet. More specifically, desktop computers and even laptops are relatively scarce in many areas of Africa. This is where devices such as low-cost tablet computers can come in very useful. With more widespread access to these devices, being able to use the internet will become something that anyone can do. Many cities in Africa already sell low-cost tablet computers, along with any relevant comprehensive cover for such devices that may be necessary. Naturally, in any built up area, a policy that offers all-encompassing cover is usually essential. In large cities within Africa, it is not uncommon to see laptops and desktop computers, which is why insurance cover is so vital – especially when these computers are used in a professional setting. We wouldn’t be surprised that, with the help of Google’s Project Loon, the use of tablet devices becomes much more widespread in Africa – even in remote areas (where, of course, gadget and other electronic device insurance becomes a bit less important).

The impact on the developing world
Since the rise of the internet, there has been somewhat of a growing imbalance between developed countries and those that are still developing. This gap has been growing wider due to the adoption of the internet at the centre of modern life in developed countries, when many others have limited access. With Project Loon, it’s easy to envision a world in which all countries have equal access to the web, so that even those who have thus far been cut off from global communication have the chance to reach others across the world with ease. It could also open many doors and lines of dialogue that have been impossible until now. The fact that Project Loon can easily be moved through the stratosphere means that it could benefit people in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Eurasia. Of course, if there is a reluctance to this change, there are no requirements for participation – it’s really meant for those who want to get online but can’t… yet.

The next steps for Project Loon
Following the pilot launch in 2013, many wondered when Project Loon would be brought to the masses. One issue that Google has faced is the fact that it’s sometimes difficult to license the relevant bands they need to transmit the wireless signals. These spectrums, in the 2.4 and 5.8 ghz bands, require long drawn-out discussions with the current owners in order to arrange proper licensing deals. All in all, this means that Project Loon has slowed down a little. However, just recently there was some good news about the future of the project, and it seems that momentum is once again taking the project skyward. Our fingers are crossed!

Contributed by reader Emma Pickles

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