Google's Project Loon is full of hot air, contends famed balloonist

The enthusiasm accompanying Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Project Loon global wireless Internet project is seriously misplaced, according to balloonist Per Lindstrand, who says he tried to talk Google out of the effort.

Google Loon New Zealand

A Google balloon over Christchurch, New Zealand (Image source: Google)

"I told them it was a waste of time, but they didn't listen," Lindstrand told TechRadar.

An aeronautical engineer, Lindstrand gained fame for its transoceanic and attempted around-the-world balloon flights with Virgin Group's founder Richard Branson.

Google contends it can create a "flock" of high-altitude balloons filled with helium and air that can be floated at different heights in the stratosphere so individual balloons can catch different currents of wind, enabling Google to keep them properly spaced and ensure consistent broadband service coverage for earthbound users.

"Balloons blow away. Wind speeds at that altitude can reach up to 120 knots, so they won't stay there for more than a minute," said Lindstrand.

Google said its solar-powered balloons communicate with each other, specialized terrestrial Internet antennas that are typically located at a residence and a local ground station, which connects to an Internet service provider (ISP). The radios and antennas are designed to receive signals from Project Loon only, filtering out other signals. Project Loon currently uses unlicensed 2.4 and 5.8 GHz ISM bands.

The Internet search giant aims to keep each Project Loon balloon--equipped with a flight computer, altitude control system, communications antenna and solar power station--aloft for 100 days. But Lindstrand contends that a helium balloon at altitude will float for only three to four days.

"And if you set off a lot of balloons simultaneously around the world, sooner or later they're just going to collect at the North Pole or the South Pole. They can't stay in position," he added.

He did suggest another tack Google might take. "If you want them to be stationary, use an airship and use the sun as your power source and a fuel cell," Lindstrand said.

Even if Project Loon's aims can be achieved technologically, it seems implausible that Google will be able to convince governments around the world to let it float high-altitude balloons through their airspace.  

Further, the need for more basic necessities obviously outweighs any need for Internet access in some of the developing countries Google is targeting.

Yet even in developing countries, there is often adequate broadband access from 3G deployments in and around major cities. The problem is that the poor cannot afford devices such as laptops and smartphones to make use of that wireless broadband connectivity.

For more:
- see this TechRadar article

Related articles:
Google's Project Loon eyes a balloon 'flock'
Google's Project Loon begins tests in California
Political issues, spying concerns could drag at Google's Project Loon
Google contends Project Loon, balloon-powered broadband, is crazy enough to work
Report: Google looks to fund, develop wireless service for emerging markets

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