Alphabet says its Loon balloons could beam internet to more people than before
In a new test, Loon, spun out of Google’s parent company, says it sent a signal 1,000 kilometers. That’s its farthest yet.
Richard NievaFormer senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
The feat means the balloons can create a web of internet connectivity spread across multiple balloons. The wider the signal, the more people can be connected from the ground without having to install wireless infrastructure, such as cell towers.
Watch this: Google knows where you are
Alphabet isn't the only Silicon Valley giant investing in efforts to bring more people online. Facebook has several initiatives designed to bring the internet to unconnected populations. One effort, called Terragraph, aims to connect high-density urban areas. Another, called OpenCellular, is an open-source platform working on rural connectivity. Last month, the social network rebranded all of its efforts under a new umbrella organization called Facebook Connectivity.
Facebook also used to have a program similar to Loon, which used drones instead of balloons to beam the internet to unconnected populations. But it said in June it'd stop building its own aircraft.
For companies like Google and Facebook, getting more people online is good for business. There are still 4 billion people who aren't connected to the internet. The more people come online, the more people can potentially use Google and Facebook services. The more users they have, the more valuable their ads become to marketers.
Loon said it conducted its test last month over deserts and mountains in Nevada and California.
Alphabet spun out Loon in July from X, the division of Alphabet responsible for its most experimental projects, including self-driving cars, internet-connected contact lenses and delivery drones.
The company says it's aiming for a commercial launch of Loon next year. Thus far, the balloons have only been used in testing, and deployed for emergency relief, as in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
Correction, 8:04 a.m. PT: This story initially misstated the type of signals the balloons would deliver. They are LTE signals.
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