Google is gearing up to test 20 high-altitude balloons in north-east Australia as part of its ambitious Project Loon initiative to bring Internet access to remote locations around the world.
Telstra, Australia’s largest telecommunications company, will support the next phase of the project’s development by supplying base stations to enable communication with the helium-filled balloons and access to the radio spectrum, The Age reported on Monday.
The next round of trial flights will take place in western Queensland next month, with engineers hoping for a successful test of technology capable of beaming 4G-like signals to receivers on the ground.
A full-fledged service, which Google hopes to have up and running next year, would involve a network of balloons floating around Earth on stratospheric winds.
The Web firm announced Project Loon in June 2013, saying at the time that it hoped its “balloons could become an option for connecting rural, remote, and underserved areas, and for helping with communications after natural disasters.”
It added, “The idea may sound a bit crazy – and that’s part of the reason we’re calling it Project Loon – but there’s solid science behind it.”
Eighteen months on, Google is clearly making progress, having already tested various versions of its balloon in the air. Earlier this year it announced they had sailed a combined distance of half a million kilometers (about 310,000 miles) in ongoing tests, with gathered data helping to further refine the design of its airborne technology.
Watching Google’s Australia-based test with great interest will be Facebook, which, together with a number of big-name tech companies, is also looking at various ways to beam Internet access to the ground, with drones the size of a Boeing 747 passenger plane one method under serious consideration.