Loon seeks experimental license – and keeps it mostly under wraps

Loon
Loon and its flying balloons - the company wants to test the 3400-3500 MHz band for its air-to-ground transmissions. (Loon)

True to form, Loon is seeking authority from the FCC to use spectrum to conduct tests related to its High Altitude Platform Station (HAPS) system for connecting the underserved – and it’s disclosing very little about its plans.

Citing the need for confidentially, Loon’s request is largely redacted, and the company (surprise!) declined to comment.

What is known is the company wants to evaluate the 3400-3500 MHz (3.5 GHz) band and its ability to support LTE air-to-ground technology. Its experiment is planned for Winnemucca, Nevada, where it’s been conducting balloon-launching operations for a while now.

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Interestingly enough, Loon is seeking Special Temporary Authority (STA) to undertake a one-day test of new technology, but it’s asking for a four-month window in which to do it, from October 15, 2020, to February 14, 2021.

Loon is listed as the manufacturer of the equipment, as well as L-Com for antennas. Loon, a part of Alphabet that started out as a mere twinkle in someone’s eye at Google, spent considerable time developing and perfecting its balloons, which are launched into the air to connect people to internet services in far-flung places on Earth.

Loon always has been super secretive about what it’s up to, although as it’s matured, it has been more willing to share some of its accomplishments in recent years and months. In July, Loon announced it’s providing service in Kenya to subscribers of Telkom Kenya – the first non-emergency use of Loon to provide connectivity on a large-scale basis.   

RELATED: Loon launches service with Telkom Kenya

Loon describes itself as essentially a network of floating cell towers, with its balloons acting as flight vehicles that it can control – unless stratospheric winds impede their ability to control the balloons. The Earth’s stratosphere is defined as the area just above the lower atmosphere to the edge of space.

As it states in its narrative for the FCC, Loon’s unmanned HAPS balloons are capable of months-long flight at altitudes of about 20 kilometers, or about 12 miles. The balloons can be equipped with an energy-efficient payload that uses frequencies capable of supporting LTE-based transmissions and/or they can be equipped with E-band payloads for feeder link service.

“Given Loon’s ability to expeditiously launch HAPS balloons that cover a large geographic footprint for end user or backhaul communications, our technology has demonstrated itself as a valuable transmission medium to restore mission critical communications after natural disasters,” Loon told the commission.

Loon is a member of the HAPS Alliance, which published a white paper earlier this year outlining a multi-billion dollar market opportunity for telecommunications, high-resolution earth observation and weather prediction and modeling. 

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