Google Shuts Down Project Loon

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Project Loon

Tech giant deflates high altitude balloon-based project that sought to deliver high speed connectivity to developing nations

Alphabet has confirmed it is shutting down its moonshot project, known as Project Loon, despite it being used in a number of developing nations.

Project Loon has been developed by Google ever since 2011, with the aim of beaming high speed internet connections into large unconnected regions via balloons in the upper atmosphere.

But now nine years later, Google has confirmed it is closing down the moonshot project.

A Loon balloon prototype is shown at launch. Credit: Alphabet

Commercial uptake

But the news that Project Loon is being shuttered has come as a surprise, considering that in recent years it has started to see some limited commercial uptake.

In July 2020 Project Loon was finally approved by the Kenyan government to provide 4G connectivity via high altitude balloons into large rural regions of Kenya.

In May 2020, the Loon division also signed a deal with South African mobile operator Vodacom to deliver high speed internet into two rural provinces in Mozambique from the upper atmosphere.

That project has now been shelved.

Prior to that Project Loon was used by American telecom operators to provide connectivity to more than 250,000 people in Puerto Rico after a hurricane in 2017.

Project Loon

Project Loon was also used to restore Internet in Peru after the earthquake there in 2017 and it has also been tested in countries such as Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

Project Loon closure

But this has not stopped Alphabet deciding to close the project, revealed in a blog post by Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth.

“Loon’s journey is coming to an end,” said Westgarth. “Thank you to everyone who believed in us and our mission of connecting people everywhere.”

An engineer is shown preparing a Loon baloon prototype for launch. Credit: Alphabet

“I first discovered Loon through a photographer I follow who posted a snap of a balloon floating through the New Zealand skies,” said Westgarth. “The more I learned, the more I wanted to be part of the mission. This sense of excitement and possibility has stayed with me over the last four years as I had the privilege to lead Loon in our mission to expand connectivity around the world.”

“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,” wrote Westgarth. “The communities in areas too difficult or remote to reach, or the areas where delivering service with existing technologies is just too expensive for everyday people.”

And it seems that costs were too blame for the closure.

“While we’ve 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,” wrote Westgarth. “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.”

“Thank you to everyone who joined us on this journey – especially to our many partners, regulators and governments who made this work possible,” said Westgarth. “We’re incredibly grateful to you for believing in Loon and our mission of connecting people everywhere, and for taking a chance on us to build something the world has never seen before.”

Westgarth concluded by thanking the Loon team, and hoping that the Project Loon effort “will live on in ways that we can’t yet imagine.”

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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