Alphabet shuts down Loon balloon project
Alphabet Inc, Google’s parent company, is shutting down its internet-distribution balloon business called Loon, which aimed to create a less expensive alternative to cell towers. The company said Thursday it was not commercially viable..
Founded in 2011, Loon has focused on providing connectivity to areas of the world where building cell towers is too expensive or dangerous. The project used balloons the length of a tennis court to move network equipment, powered by solar energy, soaring high above the Earth. But wireless carriers, which Loon viewed as buyers of its technology, have questioned its technical and political viability..
«Despite the fact that we found a number of interested partners along the way, we did not find a way to reduce costs to create a long-term and sustainable business.», – Loon CEO said on his blog Alastair Westgart.
Rich DeVol, the founder of the project, who no longer works at Alphabet, added that the growing demand for mobile communications has made towers more cost-effective in much of the world than he thought a decade ago, reducing the need for Loon.
«The problem was resolved faster than we thought», – he said in an interview.
Westgart said Loon’s legacy would include promoting helium balloons that would last hundreds of days in the sky and developing communications equipment that could provide cellular coverage over an area 200 times larger than a conventional tower..
But among the existing problems was the fact that the operator simultaneously required several balloons at once, each of which cost tens of thousands of dollars, and lasted only about five months..
Loon launched a pilot project in Kenya in 2020, years behind schedule due to regulatory delays. African partner Telkom Kenya did not provide operational comment to Reuters.
The technology was previously successful in small cell coverage projects in Peru and Puerto Rico when cell towers were destroyed by natural disasters. The company has invited countries and international organizations to contract with Loon for future emergencies, but this idea has not received much success..
Loon said it could share its technology with carriers, governments or non-profit groups looking to bring high-speed internet to hard-to-reach places on Earth..
As of 2019, the company employed 200 people. Then she raised $ 125 million in investments from HAPSMobile SoftBank.
HAPSMobile declined to comment on the financial implications of Loon’s closure, but said that «will continue to work to achieve the goal of developing commercial business».
In addition, companies supported by billionaire entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, continue to consider the possibility of connecting to the Internet using satellites in Earth orbit.
Alphabet has previously closed projects it calls «other rates», or organizations not affiliated with Google, such as those working on kites. Alphabet has done several «rates», to attract funding from other investors or to make projects self-sufficient. Loon struggled to attract investment.
The company has at least one «rate» on the use of airspace – Wing, which aims to commercialize the delivery of goods using drones.