Google recently launched an amazing project to increase the internet penetration across the world using an intelligent idea of sending out a balloon high into the atmosphere. The balloon is very large in size and carries network devices necessary to handle the communications over radio frequencies.
It is expensive to lay infrastructure in each and every corner of the country. For years together we had difficulty connecting the country side to the internet. One option is to get connected via satellite, but that is an expensive deal and the access speed is quite slow. Google Loon utilizes the lower range of the ISM bands (2.4GHz and 5.8GHz bands) to deliver the service. The balloons will operate on technology known as Wireless Mesh Network which interconnects balloons in the vicinity to form a network. The internet packets bounce off from one node to another until it reaches the destination.
It has been approximately 9 months since the balloons were launched. They have travelled several times over the Pacific Ocean, flew along the winds over Australia and New Zealand, took a ride on the eastern winds and flew over Chile and Argentina. A post on the Google+ Loon project tells us that the balloons were also riding the “Roaring Forties”; the winds which flow from west to east in the southern hemisphere.
Loon Project may have already been launched, but it is still in a testing phase where scientists and data analysts are gather more information about wind patterns and modelling prediction models to improve path trajectories. The wind data thus gathered has helped to predict twice further into the future. Along with that, the efficiency of the air pump was also improved. The wind data gathered helped maneuver the balloons away from the Polar vortex earlier this year. Various changes to the altitude changing algorithms to avoid and ride over the winds have been implemented based on the data gathered over the past few months. The data is gathered from several balloons and a lot of data analysis is required to be done as they do on EDI.
According to Google “We can spend hours and hours running computer simulations, but nothing teaches us as much as actually sending the balloons up into the stratosphere during all four seasons of the year”
Another major improvement on the hardware side is that they aligned two solar cells on the side, diagonally in order to absorb more energy when the balloon is near the poles.
An important problem encountered during the tests was that the pilot testers could not get uninterrupted service since the balloon drifted away and the signal was lost. A major goal of achieving uninterrupted connectivity has been set for this year so that the testers can get access to balloon powered internet.
Launching a balloon powered internet service to rural areas might sound fun, but the spectrum that is being used is shared by several people. If someone is using a frequency channel and in case the balloons beam the signal in that same channel at high power, then there will be interference, weak signal will be overpowered by the strong balloon signal. Apart from the interference problem, SKA projects which work on obtaining high resolution radio images of galaxies are also in danger of being affected in case a balloon beaming down internet packets pass in front of the large radio telescope antennas.
The entire loon project is an interesting move from Google on becoming a Global ISP. If this happens, then Google would prove that internet has no borders or states!