Google parent company deflates Internet-broadcasting balloon company

Google’s parent company lets out the air of an internet-broadcasting balloon company that provided online access from the stratosphere

SAN RAMON, Calif. — Google’s parent company is letting air out of an internet-broadcasting balloon company that provided online access from the stratosphere.

Loon’s shutdown plan was announced late Thursday, ending what began nine years ago as one of Google’s secret projects at its so-called “Moonshot factory,” a division now called X. Google , Loon and X are all owned by Alphabet. Inc., which relies on Google’s digital advertising empire, is funding risky ideas like internet-broadcasting balloons and another high-profile flop, internet-connected glasses.

As the name suggests, Loon was considered a crazy idea from the start. Still, Google’s hopes for the project were as high as the high-flying balloons themselves when the company finally unveiled the project in New Zealand in June 2013.

The ambitious goal at the time was to launch thousands of massive balloons 20 kilometers into the stratosphere to bridge the digital divide between the world’s 4.8 billion unwired people and their 2.2 billion counterparts. plugged in.

Since then, more and more countries that had little or no internet access now have more ways to get online in part because of the explosive growth of smartphones over the past decade.

This made it even more difficult for Loon to find a way to make money, culminating in the decision to deflate him.

“The road to commercial viability has proven to be much longer and riskier than expected,” X Division chief Astro Teller wrote in a blog post.

Alphabet does not disclose results from companies other than Google. The group of other distant companies that includes self-driving car pioneer Waymo, healthcare services company Verily and drone delivery gambit Wing are bundled with Loon and others in a division known as ” Other Bets”. billion in operating losses since 2016, while Google generated a combined operating profit of $140 billion over the same period.

Loon’s balloons have been working with telecommunications providers to provide internet access in Kenya and will continue to do so until March, according to Teller. Because he has worked with other companies on this access, Loon expects little to no disruption to Internet access for Kenyan customers.

To help Kenya expand its internet access, Alphabet will award $10 million to nonprofits and businesses aiming to advance this cause.

Most employees working at Loon will be terminated with severance packages while others will be offered jobs at X, Google or Alphabet, Teller said. He did not reveal how many of Alphabet’s 132,000 employees, most of whom work at Google, are at Loon.