Party popper: bubble bursts for Loon balloon internet project

22 Jan 2021

Google’s parent company Alphabet has decided to wind down its ‘X’ division’s Loon balloon-based internet project, which was launched in 2013 to provide internet access to rural areas around the world via a network of self-navigating high-altitude balloons, as it has not proven to be commercially viable. A blog post from X said that Loon’s ‘road to commercial viability has proven much longer and riskier than hoped’ and therefore the group has made the ‘difficult decision’ to close the programme over the coming months. Loon projects took place in countries including Kenya (where it had formed a commercial 4G LTE network partnership with Telkom Kenya), Mozambique (where it was partnering Vodacom), Uganda (via an agreement with the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority), Peru (collaborating with companies including Movistar Peru under the Internet For All banner), New Zealand, the US, Puerto Rico, Brazil and others. The blog adds that a small Loon team will stay in Kenya for a period ‘to ensure Loon’s operations are wrapped up smoothly and safely’ while the Kenyan pilot service is wound down. Some of Loon’s technologies – including the high bandwidth (20Gbps-plus) optical communication links that were first used to beam a connection between balloons – are continuing their development under Project Taara, involving teams working with partners in sub-Saharan Africa to bring affordable, high speed internet to unconnected and under-connected communities, starting in Kenya.

Kenya, Mozambique, Peru, Uganda, Alphabet Inc., Movistar Peru, Project Loon, Telkom Kenya, Vodacom Mozambique