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Google fires up Project Loon

Web giant tests high-altitude balloons to broaden reach of global Internet

Google fires up Project Loon
(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

Google is in the early stages of developing balloon-powered Internet connectivity that it hopes will expand the reach of the Web to connect the "two out of every three people" that lack access.

The company said on its official blog that it envisages "a ring of balloons, flying around the globe on the stratospheric winds, that provides Internet access to the Earth below."

The initiative, which has been named "Project Loon", is reliant on "highly experimental technology", although Google confirmed that it has already started trials in New Zealand.

"This week we started a pilot programme in the Canterbury area of New Zealand with 50 testers trying to connect to our balloons," Mike Cassidy, project lead, said in a blog post. "This is the first time we've launched this many balloons (30 this week, in fact) and tried to connect to this many receivers on the ground, and we're going to learn a lot that will help us improve our technology and balloon design."

Google, which has called for outside collaboration on the project, said that the idea is to create a fleet of balloons that will be controlled by "complex algorithms and lots of computing power", allowing them to be sent to cover areas where Internet access is required.

The balloons will fly at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes and will beam Internet access to the ground at speeds similar to 3G networks or faster.

"As a result, we hope balloons could become an option for connecting rural, remote, and underserved areas, and for helping with communications after natural disasters," Cassidy said.

However, Cassidy conceded that Google requires help to develop the project.

"Now we need some help-this experiment is going to take way more than our team alone. Over time, we'd like to set up pilots in countries at the same latitude as New Zealand. We also want to find partners for the next phase of our project - we can't wait to hear feedback and ideas from people who've been working for far longer than we have on this enormous problem of providing Internet access to rural and remote area," he said.

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