back to article Google: We're not mad, our mobes-in-sky Project Loon is FINE

Google has posted a new video explaining the progress it’s made with Project Loon, the plan to float thousands of balloons into the upper atmosphere to provide internet connectivity for penguins. Project Loon: Scaling Up It’s a project akin to Motorola’s Iridium, which was also a plan to provide ubiquitous mobile coverage, …

  1. Martin Summers Silver badge


    While I really think it is cool. I just can't see how it would work and why you would bother. I'm left with just more questions after watching that video, like how the heck do you keep a signal to a continuously moving balloon, do you have to wait for the next one to come along? But I can't be bothered to find out the answers (if there are) cos it just all seems a bit 'meh'. If they really wanted to they could chuck up a metal pole somewhere remote and put all the same kit in it and do away with the balloon surely. Yes data latency would go up a bit, but am I missing something really?

    1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: Loony?

      The area that can be covered from one aerial that is scores of miles above ground would require hundreds of tall masts and ground stations, and a balloon is also a lot cheaper than a mast (which apart from its construction and erection cost also needs to have land leased or bought). The idea certainly has merit for areas of low population density (it would not have sufficient bandwidth to service large numbers of users over such a large area). I wonder however what steps have been taken to ensure that the balloons cannot pose a risk to aircraft?

  2. Mage Silver badge


    Also typically Arrogant of Google. Do it and then try to make it legal, get suitable spectrum.

    This project is currently abusing the wrong bands.

    Long term a project like OB3 wikipedia OB3 Networks could perhaps deliver more and cost less.

    Scalability, spectrum, backhaul and running costs are an issue with Loon. They most know this. So why are Google doing this piece of arrogance? Publicity?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Stupid

      > Scalability

      In what way is it less scaleable than ground stations?

      You make one, develop it until you are satisfied with it, then make a lot and float them up into the air?

      As mentioned above, with ground stations, you need power feed, cables, you need to purchase land and hope that the local criminals don't raid it for the materials.

      I can see a lot of potential problems with this but scalability certainly isn't one of them.

    2. Daggerchild Silver badge

      Re: Stupid

      Crippling naivete and head in clouds. I agree it's almost certainly crushed out of any viable usage case by more practical techniques, but arrogance? Naw. It reeks of geek sysadminitis tho - the craving to have control of (or self-supplied backup plan for) everything you're responsible for, so nobody else can screw you over.

      If I were Google I'd start a project to study why they keep doing things that a more grounded engineer could tell them wouldn't fly. Trying and failing is admirable, but they're beginning to look like a wasp in a window. It's a blatent problem. Since Google are addicted to solving complex problems they should look into that next. Project Know-Thyself (or Shrink-Me). Too much of only one side of the brain. Silly boys.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Stupid

      "This project is currently abusing the wrong bands."

      I suppose they might make for an interesting target practice/diversion for any local air force whose air space they end up in if they are on the "wrong" band.

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Google and FB

    They both have the same problem and the founder/manager/owner bit. They believe the world sees things the way they do and have similar experiences. Yes, knowledge that can be had from the Internet is fantastic, but if you're at subsistence level with iffy power, your likelihood of rushing out to buy a cell phone is pretty much zilch. The other problem is literacy. It takes a certain amount of education to use technology. Many parts of the world are illiterate.

    Let's go a step further... they are successful and there's things in the sky providing 100% world-wide coverage. Now the local politics, and not the "who to bribe type". Given the way things are, using said balloon for your information may very well get you shot, stoned, beheaded, or tossed into a re-education camp.

    A noble goal but fraught with problems that can't be solved by launching a balloon or giving someone Facebook.

    Technology isn't the answer to every problem like some seem to think. If the population is too poor, too uneducated or in middle of a civil war, then it's a waste of time and money.

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well making damn sure that these out of the way places have no communication with each other or the outside world is a great way to ensure their continued ignorance, starvation and general destitution.

    I just cannot fathom the attitude that all "those people" need is some food and everything will be fine.

    They need food, but they need infrastructure, they need prosperity and a worldview that is larger than their immediate problems.

    They need to pull themselves out of stone-age mysticism and superstition that drives a lot of the conflict in this world.

    The reason why, in the west, we have had the longest period of peace and prosperity in recorded history this last 60 years is first and foremost down to communication.

    1. Lamont Cranston

      I'd mostly agree with this,

      except that "we in the west" have been actively engaged in armed conflicts for the last decade or so. Granted, not with each other, but still...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Today there's 78% coverage of the global population by 3G networks, and reaching 86% in 2018.

    Already there's 35% coverage of global population by 4G in 118 countries. And 4G will hit 63% by 2020.

    How could a balloon without backhaul compete with that?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "78% coverage of the global population by 3G networks"

      Sorry, don't believe the hype (not Google's, not 3G's).

      I spend most of my time in two places.

      One is a city suburb which used to have decent 3G coverage (from EE) till they broke it when 4G arrived. Now 3G is useless (confirmed by neighbours and by EE issuing signalboost boxes to a lucky few).

      Another is a smallish university and tourist town. The tourist bit is significant. When the tourists arrive, the network stops working because the network is sized for the local population not the tourist population.

      Both of these places allegedly have good 3G coverage. But it doesn't actually work that way when you try to use it.

  7. Alan Brown Silver badge


    "These days the only people who use it (Iridium) are on the US government payroll and are engaged in the kind of operation where they need secure, covert communication in places outside of the US."

    Or are El Reg staffers flying playmonauts and LOHAN.

    Perhaps there's something about the project we need to know?

    1. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: Iridium

      "These days the only people who use it (Iridium) are on the US government payroll"

      ...or indeed anyone not living constantly within a city/town and/or straying off the major highways who still values being able to contact other people when needed. I've seen even lowly boiler technicians carry these as even only a few miles from a major city it is exceedingly easy to wind up in a remote-ish village without usable GSM coverage, needing some tech detail about a specific boiler you're trying to coax back into service (and for the record, the firm wasn't paying the bill - it was a personal device bought out of necessity)...

  8. Alan Brown Silver badge

    "How could a balloon without backhaul compete with that?"

    Balloons can backhaul, but it's a bit harder than a static point-to-point link.

    Base stations in many areas end up being targetted by "individuals" wanting the copper or "groups" wanting to keep communication distrupted.

    Last time I was in the lesser travelled parts of SE Asia, I saw quite a few oxcarts (really, complete with oxen up front) being handled by someone with a mobile to his ear negotiating selling price of the products he was hauling to market _long_ before he got there.

    This is good for farmers on 2 points - Firstly they know they've sold their stuff before they've left home (it used to be that they'd risk spending most of the day and then having to get rid of things at knock-down prices, or take it home again) and secondly it's a lot harder for any middlemen to rip them off as they now know what things are selling for in the markets and can phone around to another buyer.

    1. DropBear Silver badge

      Indeed - to those people who think there's some mythical, rigid order of "hunting-gathering -> inventing fire -> learning to read/write -> flushing toilets -> library of Alexandria -> walking on the moon -> congrats, you're now qualified to use a cell phone" I have only this to say: "You know nothing, Jon Snow..."

  9. Tromos

    The aim to provide 100 per cent global internet coverage is laudable

    How can you criticise their spelling of Vodafone when you go so far astray on the spelling of 'laughable'.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: The aim to provide 100 per cent global internet coverage is laudable

      I'm more worried about Tony Baird. From the photo it like Google are using Scanners to convince teleco bosses to support their project.

  10. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Yet another use for....

    ...Graphene, should it ever be manufactured in bulk.

    According to, graphene is an impermeable barrier to gases including helium. (However, it can be used to distil alcohol):

    1. Daggerchild Silver badge

      Re: Yet another use for....

      I'm wondering if they'll tackle the problem from the other end, and use a tiny hydrogen factory that refills the balloon slightly faster than it leaks by electrolysing moisture from the atmosphere.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Google probably just used the spelling that comes highest in their search query charts.

  12. TeeCee Gold badge

    News to me.

    I was under the impression that Google's products were already brought to us by Loons.

  13. Benjol

    Looks ripe for being gobbled up by 5-eyes.

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