Google’s Project Loon testing LTE in Nevada?

Word has it that the high-flying Wi-Fi balloons may be trying to tap into 4G LTE while sailing above the desert.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read

Project Loon is Google's attempt to bring Internet access to everyone on the globe via high-flying balloons. Google

While it's known that Google has been testing its Project Loon Wi-Fi balloons in New Zealand, it appears the company is also secretly conducting tests in its own backyard, according to PCWorld.

Google has gotten permission from the US Federal Communications Commission to test its Loon balloons in the northern Nevada desert, according to PCWorld. And, with these tests, the company is also purportedly assessing whether it can tap into licensed radio spectrum to broadcast Wi-Fi.

Project Loon is Google's attempt to bring Internet access to everyone on the globe via high-flying balloons. The company announced the project last June, explaining that the balloons are solar-powered, remote-controlled, and can navigate stratospheric winds 12 miles above the surface of the Earth -- far higher than most planes travel. Similar to the way satellite Internet works, the balloons can communicate with special antennas and receiver stations on the ground.

So far, Loon has used the unlicensed 2.4GHz band for its Wi-Fi testing. But, according to FCC filings obtained by PCWorld, Google is testing two types of radio spectrum, along with a broad class signal that could possibly mean it's looking into using 4G LTE for Project Loon.

Using LTE could mean a faster Wi-Fi experience with less interference. But, it also means Google would have to work harder to get regulatory approval from several countries.

Google has hoped for absolute secrecy in regards to its alleged new testing in Nevada, according to PCWorld. In its filing to the FCC, Google reportedly asked the government agency to keep the tests under wraps.

"The technology is under development and highly sensitive and confidential in nature," Google wrote, according to PCWorld. Publicizing these tests would "jeopardize the value of the technology" and enable others to "utilize Google's information to develop similar products in a similar timeframe."

CNET contacted Google for comment. We'll update the story when we get more information.