Google appears to be planning to test its Project Loon Internet balloons across the entire United States, according to recent documents filed with the FCC.
They will be placed high in the stratosphere, 9 miles above the ground. Googles aim is to offer high internet speeds up to 4G LTE, through the solar powered balloons. It will be beamed down onto the ground, so we might be seeing access everywhere come next year.
The notion that Google is moving their project to the United States was rooted in the filing made to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The company has reportedly requested to test certain experimental radios, with the wireless in the millimeter bandwidth. Much of the information in the filing has been deemed confidential.
The company has asked the FCC for a license to test experimental radios that use wireless spectrum in the millimeter bandwidth in all 50 U.S. states and in Puerto Rico. Google said it wants to begin the tests on January 1, for a period of 24 months.
The testing could indicate that Google is broadening its ambitions for providing consumers with Internet access through the special balloons developed in its secretive X labs.
Project Loon is Googles plan to operate a fleet of solar-powered balloons flying at an altitude of 60,000 to 90,000 feet that are capable of beaming Internet access down to the earth. Google has described the project as a way to bring Internet access to people in developing economies and in regions of the world that lack communications infrastructure.
In October, Google announced plans to conduct a country-wide test of Loon in Indonesia next year, in partnership with some of the countrys largest telecom companies.
Google has previously said that it believes Loons floating cell towers in the sky could one day become a business that generates billions of dollars in revenue.
But given the projects focus on serving underdeveloped regions of the world, its not clear why Google would want to test Loon across all of the U.S. The U.S. testing could simply be a way for Google to perfect the technology before rolling it out to other parts of the world, or it could signal that Google believes the balloons could be useful closer to home.
Google is also developing drones capable of delivering internet access, and plans to conduct air-to-ground communications tests at the Spaceport America facility in New Mexico and on an Indian reservation in Oregon. Google-rival Facebook is also testing drones and satellites capable of delivering Internet access.
Googles latest FCC filings are heavily redacted, and dont mention Loon by name. But they contain a couple of clues that suggest that Googles plan to test the experimental radio transmitters across the U.S. next year involve its Loon balloons.
The name of the applicant on the filing is Astro Teller, Googles so-called Captain of Moonshots, who oversees the Google x labs that is working on Loon as well as projects such as self-driving cars and drones.
More tellingly, the filing notes that Googles latest request for an experimental license is for continued development of previous tests in which the company also acquired experimental licenses from the FCC. According to the previous filings that Google references, those tests were conducted in Winnemucca, Nevada.
Winnemucca is a remote town of roughly 7,000 in Nevada, whose attractions include a small brothel district known as the The Line and annual Basque festival, according to Wikipedia. But in August 2014, one month before Googles first FCC request for a license to test in Winnemucca, the published minutes of the Winnemucca city council contain a proposal to let Google use its airport industrial park as a temporary balloon launching facility.
The most recent Google FCC filings indicated that Google wants to use frequencies in the 71GHz to 76GHz range and in the 81GHz to 86GHz range. These so-called millimeter wave frequencies are ideal for transmitting large amounts of data, although they work best over short distances. That suggests that Google may be using the milimeter wave radios for balloon-to-balloon communications, while using LTE technology to beam the actual internet service back down to earth.
Its also a bit of a mystery why Google is attempting to bring their project in the U.S., considering their initial goal. Their ambitious campaign of high-altitude, internet-providing balloons is aimed at developing countries, with a lack of communications infrastructure. According to Google, this will affected around 5 billion people who are lacking internet access. However, the U.S. could prove itself to be another of its testing grounds.
Or, its even possible that the tech giant is now seeing bigger markets as potential revenues for their Project Loon. Whichever it is, starting next year, there will be Google Loon balloons looming over our skies.
Of course, Google isn’t literally taking a piece of the stratosphere, as if that were possible. Instead, they have enlisted the help of McKinley Climatic Laboratories in Florida, who specializes in doing just that. It has a ginormous hangar that can reproduce extreme cold temperature right here on the ground. The lab has employed by the US Air Force to test its own planes under those conditions and now Google is doing the same for more peaceful and humanitarian purposes.
Google is interested in two things. The first is how the shifting of temperature, between the sun heating up and expanding the balloon by day and the cold of night, would affect the balloon. The second is just how much inflation balloons can take before bursting and where the bursting first occurs. Data harvested from these tests have helped Google refine not just its materials but also its manufacturing process. Now a balloon can be made with just two people manning the process, a huge efficiency boost over their previous system.