Did You Say ‘Wifi Internet Access Everywhere’?

google balloonThis month Google launches the pilot run for Project Loon. If successful, the enterprise will provide Internet access to remote areas while also improving current coverage. The venture floats 30 balloons into the stratosphere where relatively slow, generally steady winds carry them around Earth. Each balloon is equipped with radio frequency technology able to provide internet connection comparable in speed to 3G to about 25 miles of ground area via building antennas. Here, Zintro experts discuss how, and to what extent, they expect this technology will be adopted and utilized.

Ben Levitan, an expert in telecommunications services, thinks “This is a quirky idea that doesn’t have much hope of being a long term solution. Motorola’s well thought out Iridium system was a similar effort and failed.” In fact, as Levitan points out, “Iridium covered larger areas than 25 miles. There just are not enough customers in rural areas to justify the costs of these systems. A strong GSM cell tower could provide the same coverage.” However, Levitan does believe the project has some advantages such as increased “attention to the issue of bringing decent network access to rural areas.”

According to Earl Lum, wireless infrastructure equipment and point-to-point microwave radio specialist, “Google is essentially doing what the military has been developing and implementing for some time now: a repeater platform in the sky. The military uses it for localized theater communications between satellites, ground and air assets including UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles]. A commercial version would need to connect each floating platform to [one another] and then either to a satellite or a ground station.”

“The issue would be,” Lum continues, “the uplink from the ground terminals back up to the floating platforms. You would need a sizable amount of power to reach back up to the balloons…Also the inter-balloon connection would be an issue depending on the altitude and what wireless technology could provide the link of 25 miles or more. Current in-flight WiFi technology from Boingo essentially uses LTE base stations with the antennas pointing up instead of down towards the ground so that the airplanes can receive the LTE signal and convert to WiFi inside the plane. The Google plan is just the opposite. Overall, Earl Lum “would argue it is easier and cheaper to use existing terrestrial fixed wireless broadband systems from Cambium Networks or Ubiquiti Networks that are cheap and available today than to float a bunch of balloons in the air.”

By Gabriela Meller


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