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How Google Loon Works


A Google Project Loon balloon on display at the Airforce Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand on June 16, 2013.
A Google Project Loon balloon on display at the Airforce Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand on June 16, 2013.
© Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images

The common wisdom is that most people are on the Internet these days, but this is only true in pockets of civilization. Roughly 4 billion people still don't have access as of late 2015. Many live in areas where the infrastructure of the Internet hasn't yet reached, or where coverage is inadequate or prohibitively expensive.

Google, famous for its many high-tech endeavors, has multiple projects in the works to get high-speed Internet connectivity to the masses. Their Google Fiber project aims to provide Gigabit service — far faster than the connection speeds we're used to — using fiber optics, and it has pilots of that program going in several areas in the US. But the company has another project aimed at getting basic high-speed Internet to areas that don't have it. And the project uses something we think of as low-tech — balloons!

The project is appropriately named Project Loon, partially because it involves balloons and partially because it sounds looney. Google's plan is to create wireless networks via equipment-laden balloons floating in the stratosphere, high above the clouds. The balloons communicate with each other and with ground-based networking equipment and mobile devices to get people on the ground connected.

Project Loon came out of Google X labs, the outfit known for other crazy-sounding projects like self-driving cars, Google Glass and contact lenses with computing components. But as odd as Project Loon may sound, there have been successful and promising tests of the program.