Using balloons to provide internet access everywhere

As regular readers know, I am originally from Sri Lanka and so my attention was caught by this report on NPR about a novel way of dealing with the problem of providing internet access to people in remote and hard to reach areas. The island is roughly the size of West Virginia and also mountainous and its long-running civil war that ended only in 2009 left about a third of the country devastated and with limited infrastructure. Although the main cities are highly developed, currently only about 16% of the population is connected to the internet.

Google has announced that they are going to use thirteen balloons suspended in the stratosphere to provide coverage to all parts of the island. This sounds like a crazy idea and the fact that it is part of a major effort called ‘Project Loon’ helps feed that perception but MIT professor Saman Amarasinghe (who is originally from Sri Lanka) seems to think it is a viable strategy.

Project Loon is of course not aimed at only Sri Lanka but is expected to eventually provide global coverage. It began as a pilot project in 2013 in New Zealand and you can read more about it here.

It looks like they are planning to use the different wind currents at different layers of the stratosphere to get the balloons to go where they are needed by telling it to rise or fall as required to reach the desired layer. This video shows how it is supposed to work.


  1. says

    Back in the early 2000s for several years, the Philippines stayed with DSL internet connections (a sixth of high speed) and dialup on remote areas because they decided it would be cheaper to upgrade once rather than twice. They now have high speed connections everywhere by spending money efficiently.

    Another example I can think of is South America. Back in the 1980s, the Canadian company Northern Telecom won the contracts to set up microwave telephone systems in Argentina and elsewhere. NT was chosen because their experiences with Canada’s geography (from mountainous to plains to tundra) which closely matched theirs.

    It makes me wonder (with no commentary intended) what the reasons were for not upgrading to such systems in the past, or if they were possible.

  2. Callinectes says

    @#2 Tabby Lavalamp

    Then they’ll fill them up with Hydrogen. No biggy. If the Hindenburg carried only wireless internet tech instead of people, it would hardly be remembered at all.

  3. Mano Singham says

    There you go, Tabby, thinking long term. Haven’t you realized from the global warming discussion that we only care about the immediate future?

    But seriously, Callinectes is right. The Hindenberg gave hydrogen an undeservedly bad rap.

  4. DsylexicHippo says

    The best part is that these balloons are immune to weather phenomenons since they are in the stratosphere, high above the mess below.

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