The Untold Story of Google’s Quest to Bring the Internet Everywhere—By Balloon

ScreenHunter_267 Aug. 14 15.20Steven Levy in Wired:

The people in Pike County were witnessing a test of Project Loon, a breathtakingly ambitious plan to bring the Internet to a huge swath of as-yet-unconnected humanity—via thousands of solar-powered, high-pressure balloons floating some 60,000 feet above Earth.

Google is obsessed with fixing the world’s broadband problem. High-speed Internet is the electricity of the 21st century, but much of the planet—even some of the United States—remains in the gaslit era; only about 2.7 billion earthlings are wired. Of course, it’s also in the company’s strategic interests to get more people online—inevitably, visitors to the web click on Google ads.

Project Loon balloons would circle the globe in rings, connecting wirelessly to the Internet via a handful of ground stations, and pass signals to one another in a kind of daisy chain. Each would act as a wireless station for an area about 25 miles in diameter below it, using a variant of Wi-Fi to provide broadband to anyone with a Google-issued antenna. Voilà!—low-cost Internet to those who otherwise wouldn’t have it. The smartphones to connect to it are quickly becoming cheap.

Over the years, Google has embarked on a number of pilot projects. In the US, it’s building its own high-speed networks in cities like Kansas City, Missouri, Austin, Texas, and Provo, Utah; it’s also lobbying to allocate unused slices of the television spectrum, called white spaces, for Internet access. But these approaches are too expensive or logistically daunting for much of the rest of the world that remains unwired. And so, Google’s quest to design a low-cost Internet service led it to a solution in a surprising place: the skies.

More here.