Report: Google has 'almost perfected' Loon technology for rural broadband coverage

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) has "almost perfected" its Project Loon balloon technology and its first deal with operators is set to be announced "hopefully very soon," a Google executive said at the GSMA Mobile 350 Series held in Cape Town, South Africa, last week, according to Mobile World Live.

Wael Fakharany, regional business lead for Google X, also said that as they enter 2016, "it's all about marketing this as fast as possible not only in rural Africa, but rural India, parts of the U.S. -- this technology has to work as fast as possible, to reach as many people as possible."

A Google spokeswoman told FierceWirelessTech that the company had nothing new to report when asked about its plans for working with U.S. mobile operators. Google previously has revealed how it has conducted experiments in the U.S. with its balloons, but a lot of work also has been done overseas. The company has done deals with Vodafone, Telefonica and Telstra and is talking to others.

"Currently I am extremely busy working with the operators, the regulators, the governments, of all different parts of the world, to give us overflight permission, test frequencies, test sites. There are some developments with operators that are more advanced than others," Fakharany said at the GSMA event. "For the last two years we have almost perfected the technology, it's time for us now to scale in this part of the world," he said during a session discussing rural broadband coverage.

Nighthawks are capable of supporting the Loon system, including antennas to provide LTE connections direct to mobile-handsets, balloon-to-balloon transmission of data and connections down to the telco partner's ground stations. (Image source: Google+)

When asked about the attitude of operators to the project, Fakharany said that "the response has been very positive, because we work very closely with operators and take on operators as our strategic partners."

"The operators control the distribution, marketing, OSS, BSS, CRM -- the customer relationship is with the telcos. We are just the infrastructure provider," he said. "There is a viable commercial business model and is based on skin-in-the-game, sharing costs and revenue with operators for completely untouched potential."

With regard to the status of the project, Fakharany said the focus for the near future is about bringing it to scale, and not just in the Southern Hemisphere, where its initial tests have taken place.

At the Google I/O conference in May, Google's Captain of Moonshots Astro Teller shared some of the lessons learned from Loon, that "crazy-sounding science project" that has made remarkable progress by failing fast at some techniques and finding others that work better. The team at one point employed a "Leak Squad" to find out what was causing slow leaks in the helium-filled balloons. 

For more:
- see this Mobile World Live article

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