Loon, the “crazy” balloon project that originated within Google in 2011, is asking the FCC for permission to expand its tests into LTE bands 20 and 28 in the area immediately surrounding its launch facility in Winnemucca, Nevada.
Specifically, Loon balloons with directional antennas will be positioned over the proposed test area and used to relay communications between handsets on the ground. Loon itself will be using ordinary FCC-approved handsets to communicate with the balloons and then unlicensed Wi-Fi or the E-band frequencies allocated under call signs WI2XCS and WH2XUP to interconnect with the ground terminals.
Loon explained that it will have the ability to terminate transmissions if the balloons exit the test area. The platforms will contain a GPS receiver, and if the receiver detects the platform has exited the test area, it will automatically disable transmissions over the test frequencies.
In addition, connections to the ground infrastructure can be used to manually disable transmissions, and the airborne radios will automatically be disabled if the connection to the ground infrastructure is lost for a certain period of time.
Frequencies to be used are 720-725, 789.5-794.5, 791-801 and 832-842 MHz. The schedule for testing calls for a start date of Sept. 15, 2018, and an end date of March 14, 2019.
Loon previously was granted authority to use LTE band 20 in the area around the Winnemucca facility, but that expired in June.
Both Loon and a sister project, the Wing drone delivery initiative, sounded kind of crazy when first proposed but are now their own independent businesses. On Aug. 21, Google informed the FCC that the planned transfer of call signs WH2XUP and WI2XCS from Google to Loon was completed.
Over the course of a few short years, Loon engineers have refined the technology so that it works with operators’ terrestrial networks. Loon transmits an operator’s signal from connection points on the ground, beams it across balloons in the stratosphere, and then sends that signal back to a user’s LTE device.
Last year, Loon worked with U.S. mobile operators to provide internet service to thousands of people in Puerto Rico. While Loon still has a launch site there, it stopped serving Puerto Rico once it was deemed that ground infrastructure had been restored to normal levels.