Alphabet shuts Internet balloon project Loon

PARIS, FRANCE – FEBRUARY 24: Google CEO, Sundar Pichai delivers a speech to the Sciences Po students on February 24, 2016 in Paris, France. For his first European tour since his appointment at the head of Google, Sundar Pichai made a first stop in Paris, where he delivered a speech at Sciences Po. The French tax authorities demanded 1.6 billion euros (1.76 billion dollars) in back taxes to Google today. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)

New Delhi, Jan 22 (IANS) Alphabet, the parent company of Google, on Friday announced to shut down its Internet balloon firm Loon.

The firm’s CEO Alastair Westgarth made the announcement, saying that while they have found a number of willing partners along the way, “we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business”.

The former Google X project was spun out as an independent company of Alphabet in 2018 alongside Wing, Alphabet’s drone business.

The company in July last year announced it has launched a fleet of 35 balloons in Kenya to provide service to over a 50,000 km region to subscribers of Telekom Kenya.

“We talk a lot about connecting the next billion users, but the reality is Loon has been chasing the hardest problem of all in connectivity — the last billion users,” Westgarth said in a post on Medium.

“Developing radical new technology is inherently risky, but that doesn’t make breaking this news any easier. Today, I’m sad to share that Loon will be winding down,” he wrote.

In October 2017, Loon was granted permission by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to use its balloons to restore connectivity to Puerto Rico following the Hurricane Maria.

The balloons were also used in 2017 when the El Nino floods devastated parts of Northern Peru, and again in 2019 when an 8.0 magnitude earthquake hit Peru.

Loon had scaled up its communications equipment from technology that could have been made in a college dorm room (literally: WiFi routers inside styrofoam beer coolers), to a communications system capable of delivering mobile internet coverage over an 11,000 square km area — 200 times that of an average cell tower.

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