The technology behind balloon powered internet and project Loon

The technology behind balloon powered internet and project Loon

Availability of internet access was once limited, but has grown rapidly. Since its arrival it has only evolved over time and has become an integral part of our lives and at the simplest level expanded our horizons. Internet gives us the privilege to perceive the world through various spectrums and so are we present to the world. According to a Global digital population report as of October 2019, almost 4.48 billion people were active internet users, encompassing 58% of the global population, ranking ahead are China, India and US in terms of internet users. 

Connecting billions of people worldwide, the internet is core pillar of modern Information society and world without internet is unimaginable. But there is significant percentage of population who still lack internet access due to which they are deprived of an essential to innovation, jobs and global competitiveness. However, with the advancements in technology, tech giants and network providers are doing their best to address the obstacles impeding internet access.

Loon LLC, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc. has been working on providing internet access to rural and remote areas by using the balloon powered internet technology. The company uses high-altitude balloons in the stratosphere at an altitude of 18 km (11 mi) to 25 km (16 mi) to create an aerial wireless network with up to 4G-LTE speeds. Although Loon has been initiated in 2011, the project was however announced on June 14, 2013 officially and on June 16, 2013 it began experimenting in NewZealand by launching 30 balloons in coordination with Civil Aviation Authority.


The Loon system

Loon is said to have taken most essential components of a cell tower and redesigned them to be light and durable enough to be carried by a balloon made from sheets of polyethylene, 20 km up on the edge of space. Loon balloons are designed and manufactured to endure the harsh conditions in the stratosphere, where winds can blow over 100 km/hr, and temperatures can drop as low as -90° C.

The balloons are superpressure balloons, a style of aerostatic balloon where the volume of the balloon is kept relatively constant in the face of changes in ambient pressure outside of the balloon, and is filled with helium, it carries an air pump that releases air to ballast the balloon, and a small box weighting 10 kg (22 lbs) containing electronic equipment. All the flight equipment is highly efficient and is powered by renewable energy. Solar panels power the system during the day while charging an onboard battery to allow for nighttime operations. These balloons are built to last for over 100 days before landing back on Earth in controlled descent. 

How Loon works?

Loon works by extending internet coverage to area with low population densities using a network of high altitude balloons operating 20 km above sea level, well above air traffic, wildlife and weather events. Loon provides a full network as a service. The balloons act as floating cell towers, transmitting a provider’s service directly to a subscriber’s 4G/LTE device below.  

To enable service, Loon’s balloons receive a signal from the ground, which is then shared across multiple balloons that spread it to users below using standard LTE signals. When a balloon is ready to be taken out of service, the lift gas keeping it aloft is released and the parachute automatically deploys to control the landing. Descents are coordinated closely with local air traffic control, and balloons are landed in a sparsely populated area. Recovery teams then collect the balloon and equipment for recycling.

Loon Project

Loon has already landed hundreds of balloons in Peru over years of testing in the country. Because this is a first-of-its-kind deployment for sustained service via stratospheric balloons in Peru, Loon, IpT and Telefónica will collaborate on securing regulatory approval from Peru’s Ministry of Transport and Communications (MTC) before launching service.

Also read, Loon and IpT to bring balloon powered internet to amazon rainforest region