Battle for air supremacy heats up as Google’s Project Loon expands

21 Nov 2014

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Recent Project Loon launch, via Google

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Google’s Project Loon, the tech giant’s bid to bring internet access to even the world’s most remote locations, is going from strength to strength.

Google has competitors in its air battle, with Elon Musk’s plans to fill the skies with 700 internet-beaming micro satellites, Facebook's drone activities and internet.org’s own global internet plans, in sharp competition.

The company has announced that it has gained such large amounts of research in its short existence that its balloons now last 10 times longer in the stratosphere, with many now lasting over 100 days (130 is its record).

Rather than competing with internet carriers around the world, Google is using its Project Loon to actually partner up, with news earlier in the week that it will team up with Telstra to test 20 Loon balloons in Western Queensland next month.

“The telecom provider — Australia’s largest — will give Google access to wireless spectrum and terrestrial base stations,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

One of the earlier 'stripped down' launches of Project Loon, via Google

Google’s ultimate aim is to encircle the globe with thousands of balloons, a target that is a long way off just yet given the logistical nightmare it must be to manage these products. But things are certainly moving in the right direction.

“By constantly computing thousands of trajectory simulations it turns out we can get pretty close to our targets,” says the company.

“For example, one flight came within 1.5km of our target destination over a flight of 9,000 kilometers, purely through predicting and sailing with the stratospheric winds. This is great for getting our balloons to where users need them, and great for getting balloons to our recovery zones at the end of their lifetime to make our recovery team’s job that much easier.”

In total, the balloons have flown over three million kilometres. “In that time we’ve learned a great deal about what it will take to bring the internet to everyone, no matter where they are,” says the company.

“It’s one thing for our balloons to last longer, but to build a ring of connectivity around the world we’ll also need to get more in the air,” says the company, which claims to be able to launch 20 balloons a day now.

It's all positive stuff from Google, but to be honest, a better announcement would have been the moment Google had launched its 99th balloon, because then we could all debate the merits of Nena's gem of a 1980s pop track.

Gordon Hunt is a journalist at Siliconrepublic.com

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