Monday, 16 October 2017

Project Loon is perfectly timed for 5G?

Google expects Project Loon to be profitable in the next couple of years, stating that “helping out” is important “but that’s not the reason we exist”.

Project Loon, part of Google’s Alphabet X division, was launched in 2012, and uses helium filled balloons to provide 120 Mb/s Full Duplex broadband internet access to some of the world’s most remote locations or in cases of disaster, (to be installed over Puerto Rica specifically) with another example providing similar symmetrical broadband connectivity to areas in Peru, South America.

During trials in the country, Alastair Westgarth, head of Project Loon, said his team was able to turn on a live network, covering a landmass the size of Switzerland, to provide internet access to thousands of people that were disconnected after severe flooding. In doing this, the Google Loon team worked with Spanish telco, Telefonica to provide access to areas in which the operator was not present, while both collaborated on spectrum.

Westgarth opened up on how exactly the partnership model with operators worked. He said when the unit first started out, “people”, presumably referring to operators, “were quite nervous” Project Loon was Google’s attempt to try to build an over the top network. “We were absolutely not doing that,” he said. “We’re not our own MNO, we’re not even our own ISP.” 

He said Project Loon was now talking to “dozens and dozens” of telcos and operators around the world, and there was a long-term vision to build a durable business and an eventual revenue driver. “We exist to build a durable business model, and underneath that if we can help people and on occasion provide relief during a strenuous situation, a disaster situation, that’s great,” he said. “But we believe in the next couple of years we will be flying and providing service in a commercial context in partnership with the operators.” During the interview, Westgarth also opened up on how artificial intelligence technology would be leveraged further to control and monitor the balloons in flight at 20 km altitude.

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