Google parent Alphabet to shut down Loon, its internet-beaming balloon project

The project's business was unsustainable, Alphabet says.

Richard Nieva Former 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.
Richard Nieva
2 min read

Alphabet is shutting down its Loon project.


Google parent company Alphabet said Thursday that it's shutting down Loon, a project aimed at beaming down internet connectivity from balloons floating in the stratosphere.

The project was born out of X, Alphabet's self-described moonshot factory for experimental projects, which has also developed the company's driverless car and delivery drone services. Alphabet, however, deemed Loon's business model unsustainable and said it couldn't get costs low enough to continue operation. 

"The road to commercial viability has proven much longer and riskier than hoped," Astro Teller, who leads X, said in a blog post. "So we've made the difficult decision to close down Loon."

Loon, which debuted in 2013, was spun out of the X division three years ago. The project was meant to serve rural parts of the world that don't have robust broadband infrastructure, serving as flying cellular towers. 

For Google, the effort wasn't just about altruism. If successful, it would've been a way to bolster the tech giant's massive software business. The more people the company can get online, the more people it can persuade to use its services, like search, maps and YouTube. 

Before shuttering, Loon had already begun commercial deployment. In July, the company launched a pilot service in Kenya. Before that, the technology had been tested in emergency situations, including in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria swept across the island in 2017.

Teller said employees who worked on the project would be reassigned within Google and Alphabet, but a small group of workers would stay on the Loon team to wind down the Kenya program.