Google’s ‘Project Loon’. A publicity stunt or the solution?

Posted by Karen on Oct 18, 2013 12:00:00 AM
“Balloon powered internet for everyone” is the tag line being touted by Google at the moment promoting Project Loon, it’s the new way for people to connect to the Internet. Emphasis has been heavily placed on the word ‘everyone’ with two-thirds of the world’s population currently unable to access the internet.

Project Loon is essentially a network of balloons that ‘float’ in the stratosphere, each connecting with one another and with the antennas placed on homes. The balloons themselves stand twelve metres tall and are controlled by a mixture of circuit boards, radio/internet antennas and solar power. According to Google each balloon can provide connectivity to a group area of 40km in diameter with speeds comparable to 3G. The project was put to test in New Zealand earlier this summer; with 30 balloons sent into the sky and offering 60 lucky volunteers 15 minutes of balloon-based Internet access. View the video here.

According to Google, Project Loon promises to serve the Internet needs of citizens in remote areas and also assist in the aftermath of natural disasters (where Internet may have become inaccessible). The prospect of the project is being able to deliver connectivity to the developing world, and in doing so help to transform traditional economies. This is something Google have been particularly keen to highlight. The Google statement, ‘We will save the world with Internet’, has been met with consternation in some corners; particularly by Bill Gates who despite being strong advocate of ‘digital revolution’, also maintains that in “the really low-income countries, unless you directly say we’re going to do something about malaria”, you’re unlikely to bring about fundamental change.

Whether you buy into Google’s’ philanthropic rhetoric or not, in my view ‘Project Loon’ could, well, have wings. Those who discard it as a mere publicity stunt should look towards where Google make their money (internet advertising of course) to find a very compelling rationale for them to make the project a success and bring more users online in the process.
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