According to Google, two-thirds of the planet's inhabitants still do not have access to the Internet. An unacceptable lack for the search engine which kicked off a project in New Zealand to use airships as satellite relays.
It targeted regions poor in traditional telecom infrastructures such as Africa or South America.
Google wanted to bring, through its project Loon, Internet access for all thanks to airships 15 meters in diameter. The idea of the engineers of the search engine is quite simple: rather than launching expensive satellites into space, they propose to use these balloons, perched 20 km above our heads, to deploy an Internet connection of good quality (3G equivalent). Each balloon would cover a population over a radius of about 40 km.
Unlike satellites which have a fixed orbit, Google balloons float with the winds of the stratosphere.
The balls are the size of a tennis court and are designed to withstand the rigors of the stratosphere for hundreds of days. Energy is supplied by solar panels. Above all, Loon has developed a complex network management system, which relies in particular on the prediction of balloon movements, carried by high-altitude winds. When a balloon leaves its working area, it is returned to Earth and replaced by another.
Balloons are in fact only antennas responsible for transmitting the signal over a large area. On the Internet side, to take advantage of this digital windfall that has fallen from the sky, you will simply need to equip yourself with a specific antenna.
Kenya was the first African country and the world to market and test this service.
According to the technical sheet, the fleet consisted of 35 stratospheric balloons and covered more than 50,000 km 2 of the territory. Located about twenty kilometers above the ground, the balloons move continuously to provide a 4G internet connection over a large area. The project was operational in 10 regions of the country including Iten, Eldoret, Baringo, Nakuru, Kakamega among others Kericho and Narok.
But with Kenya as the only client, the Alphabet subsidiary's Loon Internet access project provided by balloons was abandoned for lack of commercial visibility.
"The road to commercial viability has turned out to be much longer and riskier than hoped. In the coming months, we will begin to shut down Loon's operations and have decided that this project will no longer be part of the Alphabet's big bets, "explained Astro Teller, boss of Lab X, the ideas incubatorAlphabet.
As for Kenya, Loon has vowed to keep a team to gently shut down the service. This is accompanied by a $ 10 million fund to help charitable or commercial actors "who are working to improve connectivity, entrepreneurship and education in the country," the statement said. However, nothing is said about compensation for customers.
Nothing is known about the final cost of the Loon project either., on the other hand, Alphabet is strong enough to support this investment at a loss. It is also the vocation of Lab X : to go where no one is going to discover, perhaps, the technological revolution of tomorrow.