Google’s parent company Alphabet has finished exploring the idea of using giant balloons to deliver high-speed internet to remote areas of the world.
The company said Thursday night it was shutting down Loon, a nine-year-old project and two-and-a-half-year spinoff, after failing to find a business model and lasting partners.
Loon’s demise comes a year after the Android maker ended Google Station, its other major connectivity effort to bring the internet to the next billion users. Through Station, Google has provided internet connectivity to more than 400 train stations in India and has sought to replicate the model in other public places in more countries.
That said, Alphabet’s decision today is still surprising. Just last year, Loon got approval from the Government of Kenya to launch the first balloons to provide business connectivity services – which he succeeded months later, making it look like things were going in the right direction. good direction.
On its website, Loon has long stated its mission as follows: “Loon focuses on connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world. We are in talks with telecommunications companies and governments around the world to come up with a solution to extend Internet connectivity to these underserved areas. “
Perhaps SpaceX and Amazon’s growing interest in the space influenced Alphabet’s decision – otherwise, the two companies are going to have to answer tough feasibility questions in the future.
“We talk a lot about connecting the next billion users, but the reality is that Loon has been looking for the most difficult connectivity problem of all – the last billion users,” said Alastair Westgarth, director General de Loon, in a blog post.
“Communities located in areas that are too difficult or remote to reach, or areas where providing services with existing technologies is just too expensive for ordinary people. While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to cut costs enough to create a long-term sustainable business. Developing radical new technology is inherently risky, but it does not make it easy to spread this news. “
The blog post called Loon’s connectivity effort a success. “The Loon team is proud to have catalyzed an ecosystem of organizations working to provide connectivity from the stratosphere. The world needs a layered approach to connectivity – terrestrial, stratospheric, and spatial – because each layer is tailored to different parts of the problem. In this area, Loon has made a number of important technical contributions, ”Westgarth wrote.
What happens next
In a separate blog post, the company said it has pledged a $ 10 million fund to support nonprofits and businesses focused on connectivity, internet, entrepreneurship and education in Kenya. .
Alphabet also plans to “advance some of Loon’s technology” and share what it has learned from this moon idea with others.
Additionally, “some of Loon’s technology – like the high-bandwidth (20 Gbps +) optical communications links that were first used to transmit a connection between balloons leaping into the stratosphere – already exists in the sky. Taara project. This team is currently working with partners in sub-Saharan Africa to provide affordable high-speed internet access to unconnected and under-connected communities from Kenya, ”the company said.
Many companies, including Google and Facebook, have visibly cut back on many of their connectivity efforts in recent years after many developing countries like India they were targeting solved their internet problems on their own.
It has also become clear that subsidizing Internet access to hundreds of millions of potential users may not be the most sustainable way to acquire customers.