Google could be preparing to expand Project Loon tests across U.S.: report

Based on filings with the FCC, it looks as if Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) may be angling to test its Project Loon balloons across the United States using millimeter wave spectrum.

Engineers test Loon balloons in super-cold environments. (Image source: Google)

In a heavily redacted public version of the Nov. 24 filing with the FCC, Google asks for an experimental license to be granted for 24 months beginning Jan. 1, 2016. Granting the license will not adversely impact any authorized user of RF spectrum, the filing states.

The filing doesn't mention Loon by name, but various publications are connecting it to Loon because the name listed on the application is Astro Teller, whose title is Captain of Moonshots. He has overseen the Google X labs where Loon is being worked on, along with other "moonshot" things like autonomous cars and drones that are now part of Google parent company Alphabet.

Business Insider also pointed out that the most recent filing builds on testing the company previously did in Winnemucca, Nev. In August 2014, one month before Google's first FCC request for a license to test in Winnemucca, published minutes of the Winnemucca City Council revealed a proposal to let Google use its airport industrial park as a "temporary balloon launching facility."

A Google spokesperson did not respond to FierceWirelessTech's request for comment.

The most recent FCC filings show Google wants to use 71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz spectrum, which work best over short distances, suggesting Google may want to use the millimeter wave radios for balloon-to-balloon communications and LTE to beam the Internet service back down to Earth, Business Insider reports.

At Google's I/O conference last spring, engineers on a panel about engineering for the stratosphere talked about how in the early days, balloon prototypes usually wouldn't make it too far from California, but they tracked one over Kentucky, where YouTube alerts about UFO sightings started popping up around the same time. The local news showed an image of one of the balloons as part of the "UFO" coverage.  

A year ago, Project Loon Director Mike Cassidy told Slate that he anticipated the first customers in rural South America, southern Africa or Oceania would be able to sign up for cellular LTE service provided by Google balloons by 2016.

While Google is still trying to keep most of its Loon plans secret, it will occasionally share details about what engineers are learning. In a video posted last week, manufacturing lead Mahesh Krishnaswamy talks about how the team has been able to accelerate improvements in balloon lifetime, design and manufacturing by using the McKinley Climatic Lab to test whole balloons at -40 to -60 degrees centigrade (-40F to -76F).

Teller discussed Loon during I/O as well and said the right way to build solutions isn't always immediately clear, so a lot of trial and error occurs. "Sometimes this turns out to be us dragging our balloons up to South Dakota to expose the balloons to arctic winds," he said.

For more:
- see this Business Insider article
- see this ZDNet article
- see this Google post

Related articles:
Report: Google has 'almost perfected' Loon technology for rural broadband coverage
Google X head talks of failing fast, Loon and autonomous cars
Google hopes to have Project Loon customers by 2016