If the idea were mooted by a tech startup in the Silicon Valley, it probably would have been dismissed as being too unrealistic. But when Google decides to connect the world via the Internet using balloons, analysts tend to notice.
Project Loon seems to be an apt name for the initiative, according to analysts. The project was initially seen to be too weird to be taken seriously. But a growing number of people are coming to realise the potential of the project.
The project aims to connect billions of people with the Net. Hardwiring the whole planet is not cost effective and the terrain in many places prohibits access. The solution offered by Google is much more cost effective, say analysts.
The balloons that Google intends to place 20 km, or 65,000 feet in the sky, is made from polyethylene film and is three times as thick as a plastic carry bag used in supermarkets. They are 15 meters wide and are relatively inexpensive to make.
Each balloon carries a small Linux-based computer and uses Wi-Fi radio signals to communicate with a Google Command Centre on the ground. The command centre controls the balloon using GPS and other sensors.
Each balloon is expected to stay in the sky for about 100 days at a time. The balloon is then directed to a nearby rescue centre on the ground, where the balloon is recovered. A new balloon is launched to take its place and the cycle continues.
The Net signals from the balloons are relayed to the ground-based receiving antennas. The ground-based infrastructure will be responsible for receiving and distributing the Net signals. The Net signals can be distributed using fiber optic cables. The distribution can also be outsourced to a local partner company.
The benefits of cheap and easily accessible Internet are immense. The technology could bring online schools to children who do not have access to a school. Doctors could be consulted online from remote areas or areas cut off by natural calamities like floods.
It could be some time before the process of placing the Loon balloons around the world begins, but most analysts agree that the project is feasible. Will Google revolutionise the way people interact, by bringing Internet access to billions of people as yet unconnected?
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