Google bursts internet balloon moonshot Project Loon

Ten-year-old initiative proved too expensive to be a sustainable business

Google's Project Loon floating in the sky

Project Loon, Google's moonshot to use giant balloons to provide internet connectivity to the world's most remote regions, has been shelved. 

The decision was announced in a blog post written by the project's CEO Alastair Westgarth, who said that Loon will be "winding down". 

Loon spent nine years as a moonshot within Google's 'X' programme and two years as a spin-off business. Its goal was to provide internet access to the so-called 'last billion' people in the world - those that live in areas where cell towers can't be installed or where it simply isn't financially viable to put one.

Consequently, a lack of financial sustainability is part of the reason Loon is being shut down. 

"The arc of innovation is long and unpredictable," Westgarth wrote. "While this isn't the outcome I envisioned for Loon when I joined four years ago, I continue to be immensely proud of the accomplishments of the entire Loon team and hope that our efforts will live on in ways that we can't yet imagine."

Despite its high profile and ethical mission statement, Loon is a typical moonshot; a fundamental problem solved by a radical technology. It is a reach into the unknown without a guarantee of success mainly because the target is always overly ambitious.

Loon's lofty goal was to put the internet in the sky, using balloons fitted with patch antennas to transmit signals to either ground stations or Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks. The balloons floated 600ft above a region for 100 days at a time, providing mobile internet coverage over an 11,000 square kilometre area. 

An internet balloon was pitched as the solutions for communities in remote areas, or regions where delivering services with existing tech isn't affordable for everyday folks. Although Loon did finds some willing partners, mainly network providers and some government agencies, there was just no way to get the project's costs low enough for "long-term, sustainable business", according to Westgarth.

The projects finest hour came three years ago when it was used to help Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands regain wireless services after Hurricane Maria destroyed them. 

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