Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has finished exploring the idea of using a fleet of balloons to deliver high-speed internet to remote parts of the world.
The firm said Thursday evening that it was relax loon, a nine-year project and two-and-a-half-year spin-off, after failing to find a sustainable business model and partners for one of its most important projects.
The disappearance of Loon, who took center stage after the project helped restore cellular services destroyed by a hurricane in Puerto Rico, comes a year after the Android maker terminated Google Station, its another major connectivity effort to bring the Internet to the next billion users. .
Through Station, Google has provided internet connectivity at over 400 train stations in India and has sought to replicate the model in other public places in other countries.
That said, Alphabet’s decision today is still surprising. Just last year, Loon won approval from the Government of Kenya to launch balloons to provide commercial connectivity services, which he managed to do months later, giving the impression that things were going in the right direction.
Loon, which raised $125 million from a SoftBank unit in 2019, has long stated its mission as follows: “Loon is focused on connecting unserved and underserved communities around the world. We are in talks with telecommunications companies and governments around the world to provide a solution to extend Internet connectivity to these underserved areas.
Perhaps SpaceX and Amazon’s growing interest in the space influenced Alphabet’s decision – if not, the two companies will also face difficult feasibility questions in the future.
“We talk a lot about connecting the next billion users, but the reality is that Loon is tackling the toughest connectivity problem of all – the last billion users,” wrote Alastair Westgarth, chief executive of 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 simply too expensive for ordinary people. Although 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 that doesn’t make breaking the news any easier.
The blog post characterized Loon’s connectivity effort as 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 space – because each layer is suited 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 noted he had pledged a $10 million fund to support non-profits and businesses focused on connectivity, internet, entrepreneurship and education in Kenya.
Alphabet also plans to advance some of Loon’s technology and share what he’s learned from this lunar idea with others.
Additionally, “some of Loon’s technologies — like the high-bandwidth (20 Gbps+) optical communications links that were first used to transmit a connection between balloons hopping into the stratosphere — already exist in Taara Project. This team is currently working with partners in sub-Saharan Africa to bring affordable high-speed internet to unconnected and under-connected communities from Kenya,” the company said.
Dozens of companies, including Google and Facebook, have visibly scaled back many of their connectivity efforts in recent years after many of the developing countries like India they targeted 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.