Everyone loves a balloon. But soon people who have spotty Internet access -- or even no access at all -- will have a reason to love balloons even more, because Google will be using them to deploy 3G networks into parts of the world where connectivity is unreliable at best.
Google calls this imaginative delivery system Project Loon, and recently it released a video, below, detailing where Project Loon currently stands: With dozens of balloons produced each day, plus a simple steering system that maneuvers each balloon up and down -- the wind takes it left or right, depending on the altitude.
If all goes according to Google's plans, Project Loon has the potential to disrupt how connectivity is delivered. Google is building its balloons to reside for 100 days in the stratosphere, the second layer of our atmosphere, just above the troposphere, where we all live and breathe. (After one hundred days, they will be brought down in a controlled descent.)
Each balloon provides 40 kilometers of coverage using LTE (that's "4G" to you and me). According to Google, "To use LTE, Project Loon partners with telecommunications companies to share cellular spectrum ... balloons relay wireless traffic from cell phones and other devices back to the global Internet using high-speed links."
Of course, there's a catch.
Project Loon has been successfully tested since June 2013, giving connectivity first to a sheep farmer in New Zealand, then a school in Brazil. There could be a reason for these locations: Google writes, "Project Loon will continue to expand the pilot, with the goal of establishing a ring of uninterrupted connectivity at latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere [emphasis ours]."
In other words, Google has not announced any kind of plans to bring Project Loon to the United States -- not that it doesn't have that America in mind. Google has also tested Project Loon in Nevada ... 25 miles away from an LTE base station operated by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.
Venturing a prediction, we anticipate that Project Loon will use Southern Hemisphere locations as proving grounds in a battle for the necessary FCC approval. We also expect massive resistance from telecoms like Verizon and AT&T.
It's Internet connectivity coming from the sky. But whatever you do, don't call it Skynet.