Google’s parent company, Alphabet, says it’s reached a new milestone in its ambitious plan to beam Wi-Fi signals to remote populations.
The project, called Loon, would send giant, high-flying balloons into the stratosphere to deliver internet to the ground. On Tuesday, Loon said it sent a signal further than it has before: 1,000 kilometers, or more than 621 miles, across seven balloons.
The feat means the balloons can create a web of internet connectivity spread across multiple balloons. The wider the signal, the more people can be connected from the ground without having to install wireless infrastructure, such as cell towers.
Alphabet isn’t the only Silicon Valley giant investing in efforts to bring more people online. Facebook has several initiatives designed to bring the internet to unconnected populations. One effort, called Terragraph, aims to connect high-density urban areas. Another, called OpenCellular, is an open-source platform working on rural connectivity. Last month, the social network rebranded all of its efforts under a new umbrella organization called Facebook Connectivity.
Facebook also used to have a program similar to Loon, which used drones instead of balloons to beam Wi-Fi to unconnected populations. But it said in June it would stop building its own aircraft.
For companies like Google and Facebook, getting more people online is good for business. There are still 4 billion people who aren’t connected to the internet. The more people come online, the more people can potentially use Google and Facebook services. The more users they have, the more valuable their ads become to marketers.
Loon said it conducted its test last month over deserts and mountains in Nevada and California.
Alphabet spun out Loon in July from X, the division of Alphabet responsible for its most experimental projects, including self-driving cars, internet-connected contact lenses and delivery drones.
The company says it’s aiming for a commercial launch of loon next year. Thus far, the balloons have only been used in testing, and deployed for emergency relief, as in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
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