Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Google’s Plan to Use Balloons to Blanket the World in Bandwidth

red_balloonAs much as we like to think the Internet is a global and universal experience, it isn’t.

In North America, nearly 80 percent of the population has access to the Internet. According to the International Telecommunications Union, in Asia, where the United Nations pegged the population at nearly 4 billion last year, slightly more than a billion people, a little better than 27 percent, has access. In Africa, the rate is less than 16 percent.

Internet giant Google says that two out of every three people on the globe has no access to a fast Internet connection and so is not participating in the global conversation that connected people take part in every day.

That’s the problem it’s aiming to solve with its latest “big idea” project out of its Google[x] research and development unit. Announced yesterday in a corporate blog post, it’s called Google Loon, and the idea is deceptively simple: Float a bunch of balloons carrying solar-powered equipment that generates a wireless data signal up to the stratosphere, high above where airplanes fly, but still far below where orbital satellites circle the Earth.

Eventually, Google hopes to float a huge network of balloons that circle the Earth following wind patterns which would blanket countries currently lacking in Internet infrastructure with wireless networks comparable to today’s 3G networks.

This week, the company launched a pilot program in New Zealand, and it’s looking for other countries in the same latitude as New Zealand to do more trials. The video below explains how it will work.

(Image from the classic French children’s film “The Red Balloon.”)

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik