Loon, the former Google X project and now independent Alphabet company, has developed an antenna system that could create a far greater ground coverage than previously possible.
According to Loon each of its balloons, from 20km above earth, can cover an area of about 80km in diameter and serve about 1,000 users on the ground using an LTE connection. However, Loon balloons need a backhaul connection from an access point on the ground and without that connection the balloons can’t provide connectivity to users on the ground.
But on Tuesday the company revealed it had sent data across a network of seven balloons from a single ground connection spanning a distance of 1,000 kilometers, or about 621 miles.
It also achieved its longest ever point-to-point link, sending data between two balloons over a distance of 600km.
The tests were carried out across California and Nevada, with the balloons punting data packets between each other from “desert to mountains and back again”, according to Loon.
Each of the balloons in that network was able to pass a connection to other balloons as well as serve as a connection point to users on the ground. The end result is a larger area of coverage to connect more people.
“Instead of one balloon utilizing one ground-based connection point to serve users, we can use that same terrestrial access point to activate a network of multiple balloons, all of which can connect people below,” explained Loon’s head of engineering, Salvatore Candido.
This could get around the need to build more infrastructure on the ground in order to reach more people.
“If we can extend our reach by passing that connection across a network of balloons, like a cosmic soccer team advancing the ball through the sky, we can cover far more people.”
Loon expects to kick off its first commercial deal in Kenya next year.
The former X project was spun out as the independent company Loon in July alongside Alphabet’s drone business, Wing.