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Google to test its Project Loon balloons over Australia

Can Google's high-orbit, high-tech balloons provide Internet access to remote areas? The company will conduct its latest Project Loon test above Australia.

A Loon balloon makes an ascent near Campo Maior, Brazil Google

Google next month will be traveling to Australia in an attempt to show that a string of balloons in orbit around Earth can provide Internet access to people in normally unreachable areas.

In its latest test of Project Loon, the search giant is teaming up with Telstra, Australia's leading telecommunications provider, to send off 20 balloons in a test flight in western Queensland in December, Google said, confirming a story by The Guardian. The balloons themselves are equipped with antennas that direct Wi-Fi signals to homes and mobile devices on the ground. For the test in Australia, Telstra will provide the needed base stations and access to the required spectrum space, The Guardian reported.

And just why is Google doing this?

The search giant believes that Project Loon can deliver Internet access to areas around the world where more conventional means of access are unfeasible or too expensive. Officially unveiled in June of 2013, the project works by sending the solar-powered, remote-controlled balloons 12 miles above the Earth. Using built-in technology, the balloons then communicate with antennas and base stations on the ground to deliver the necessary access.

The goal, as defined by Google, is to "connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps and bring people back online after disasters."

In its Project Loon page, Google describes the technical process in detail:

Project Loon balloons float in the stratosphere, twice as high as airplanes and the weather. In the stratosphere, there are many layers of wind, and each layer of wind varies in direction and speed. Loon balloons go where they're needed by rising or descending into a layer of wind blowing in the desired direction of travel. People can connect to the balloon network using a special Internet antenna attached to their building. The signal bounces from this antenna up to the balloon network, and then down to the global Internet on Earth.

Google has already tested its high-flying balloons in other areas of the world, including New Zealand, California's Central Valley and Northeast Brazil.

A spokesman for Google told CNET that one reason the company is going public with the new project is so it could start talking to potential partners such as telecom companies and get their feedback. Google is now conducting Project Loon tests with Vodafone in New Zealand, Telstra in Australia and Telefonica in Chile, he said.