Last weekend, as part of its Project Loon, Google launched 30 balloons, which together helped provide basic broadband-like Internet access to 50 or so testers in the Christchurch area of New Zealand. The balloons hover about 12 miles above the Earth — well out of the way of birds and commercial flights — and communicate with the ground and each other through transceivers. They are powered by solar panels, with extra energy put in a rechargeable battery, and they position themselves automatically (with remote assistance from Google technicians if necessary). On the ground, the testers receive Internet through special antennas that filter out regular wi-fi and are only able to pick up the balloons’ signals.
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What’s the Big Idea?
Large sections of the planet do not have reliable Internet access, including many places where laying in fiber would be all but impossible. While satellites can help fill in the gaps, they can be expensive. The high-altitude balloons that are at the heart of Project Loon are more affordable and provide speeds comparable to 3G networks.