All 13 helium-filled balloons should be ready by March, 2016. They’ll be placed in the stratosphere—roughly 12 miles (19 kilometers) up in the sky, scraping the edge of space. That’s about twice as high as the altitude at which most commercial planes fly. Earthlings can then connect to the floating balloon network directly from their phones. Each balloon covers up to 25 miles (40 km) in diameter on the ground.
Unfortunately, the balloons can’t stay up there forever—Google plans to replace them every 100 days or so. In order to keep their operational costs down, local internet service providers will have access to them.
Google is promising that its Project Loon balloon-broadband initiative is ready to go and wants to announce its first operator partners in Africa soon.
Last Friday, Google regional business lead Wael Fakharany told the GSMA Mobile 360 conference in South Africa the company has “almost perfected” the Loon technology.
Fakharany said the Alphabet subsidiary’s subsidiary thinks it is now “time to scale’” the technology in Africa.
Turning the project from an experiment into a live service demands access to spectrum and customers on the ground, and for that, Fakharany said the organisation is working with operators in the countries it hopes to blanket.
Mobile World Live quotes Fakharany as saying the will have control of the service put in front of end users.
“The operators control the distribution, marketing … the customer relationship is with the telcos. We are just the infrastructure provider”, he said.
As well as spectrum, a permanent commercial service is going to need a lot of government-level negotiation to secure over flight permissions and test sites, he said.
The shift to being a wholesaler only suggests that between first conceiving Project Loon and today, Google X has learned something of the real politik of telecommunications: becoming a telecommunications carrier in every country its balloons can see would be expensive and burdensome.
As well as Africa, India and Sri Lanka (whose communications minister Mangala Samaraweera took to the stage in July with Google X exec Mike Cassidy to announce a whole-of-country deal), Fakharany said the outfit hopes to bring its Loony broadband to rural US.
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