Google's Project Loon antennas will get more sophisticated

The terrestrial antennas deployed at buildings where Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Project Loon delivers broadband Internet service from free-floating balloons in the stratosphere are simple today, but that probably will not be the case in the future.

Cyrus Behroozi, network engineering lead for Project Loon, discussed the antenna design and future plans in the latest video Google posted to YouTube to promote its airborne Internet experiment.

The antenna housing, which resembles a red balloon, holds two main components: a radio in the bottom section and the antenna in the upper section. The antenna includes cables for connecting to the radio, a large, disc-shaped, silver reflector and a square, green patch antenna.

The circular shape reflector determines the actual profile of the signal, which is critical, Behroozi  said, because Project Loon balloons as they float do not remain at a uniform distance from the ground-based antenna. As they pass overhead, they get closer and then get farther away from the antenna.

Behroozi details Loon's antenna design in this YouTube video.

"The antenna actually has to have more sensitivity off to an angle than it does straight up. That results in a uniform signal strength no matter where the balloon is overhead," Behroozi said.

This initial antenna design is subject to change. "In designing the antenna systems for our first pilot tests, simplicity was one of the goals," Behroozi said. Now that Google has gotten the basics working, its engineers feel more comfortable adding complexity to improve performance, he added.

Meanwhile, Google CEO Larry Page was guarded when asked during the company's third-quarter 2013 earnings call about plans to commercialize Project Loon. Saying, "It's really early for that," Page went on to admit that the only reason Google began touting the project was because it knew people would start seeing the balloons as it ramped up testing.

"We've been totally amazed by the positive reaction we've gotten across the world" from telcos and others wanting to work with Google, Page said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the call.

Google announced Project Loon in June, describing the plan as a way to deliver low-cost Internet access via balloons to the unserved and underserved in remote and rural areas. Early testing is being conducted in New Zealand and California.

For more:
- see this Google video
- see this Engadget article
- see this GigaOm article
- see this Seeking Alpha transcript (sub. req.)

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