In light of the surveillance state that the US has become and the collaboration of government agencies with the tech giants, I say:
Support the small guys!
I wish other large companies showed such ambition. Telecoms like AT&T can't even be bothered to roll out the network upgrades they promised in the early 2000's.
Back when AT&T was a monopoly, we did see innovative projects like this come out of them. At the turn of the century, linking everyone in the U.S. with phone lines was a pretty blue-sky project. The AT&T phone network was a marvel of engineering of the time. And of course Bell Labs gave us tons of innovations.
That's the beautiful thing about being in a market where you're not scraping around in the dirt trying to claw out the eyes of your competitors.
The lack of money and employees is probably the last thing that would prevent AT&T to do these kind of projects.
For most organizations the task of running these sort of experiments will easily come at a chicken feed cost.
However the real problem is really amidst all red tape, most middle management can't tolerate smart engineers. It threatens them, they feel insecure that smart people will ultimately replace them.
There fore they make all attempts to stop anything big from ever happening. Running daily affairs as usual is OK. Its in their interest to keep rewards, motivation and level of work such that their positions are safe.
edit: apparently a different beast than today's AT&T
The company used to be known as SBC Communications but changed it's name to AT&T after acquiring what was left of AT&T (mostly long-distance phone services) in 2005.
Through a long series of acquisitions AT&T now owns 11/24 Baby Bells.
My grandfather worked for AT&T for his entire career and I've involuntarily listened to a minimum of 100 hours of company history throughout my life.
Today's AT&T is not the AT&T of yore. Neither in its technical research, nor in its management.
This is about BIG thinking enabled by the unique org structure. Everything about corporate governance says this is a bad structure. But they still might pull this greatness off!
"His plan: Beam it down from balloons hovering at the edge of space.
This isn't just hot air. His company, Space Data Corp., already launches 10 balloons a day across the Southern U.S., providing specialized telecom services to truckers and oil companies. His balloons soar 20 miles into the stratosphere, each carrying a shoebox-size payload of electronics that acts like a mini cellphone "tower" covering thousands of square miles below.
His idea has caught the eye of Google Inc., GOOG -0.22% according to people familiar with the matter. The Internet giant -- which is now pushing into wireless services -- has considered contracting with Space Data or even buying the firm, according to one person."
Google is taking this global, but I believe they bought the company behind this. They have been working on this for over 10 years!
" But Space Data says its plan to create America's first floating wireless network -- by putting disposable transmitters on government weather balloons -- has already undergone successful testing and is economically viable.
A trial run with text-messaging service in the Phoenix area is slated for this summer. The official launch of the messaging service would begin next spring in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma, extending nationwide by the end of 2003. Cellular phone service could be added a year later if the company secures more funding. "
At&T has no incentive, this probably would help new incumbents and they'll hate that. Google is not going to do something that helps a search competitor, so why should AT&T helps theirs?
It's definitely something to model future companies off of.
When you win the race, don't stop, keep running.
First of all, the system is in total very expensive: You don't get any coverage with just a few baloons, you probably need hundreds to make any of them stay connected to the rest of the internet most of the time.
Second, this system is extremely stochastic and complex. The winds are mildly predictable, so they will have to optimize the balloon paths to cover their userbase.
This is a very exciting problem once you think about it...
That's a good summary of why Google has been so successful.
They have a way of making engineers and regular people really excited about their projects. It's a feedback loop - have exciting stuff, recruit smarter people, work on more exciting stuff.
Take away Glass, self driving cars, Loon, and all the other blue sky projects, and you still have a wildly successful company. But take away those two cash cows and Google is broke.
On the other hand there is no telling what sorts of massive successes will come out of Google. They will have their stakes in any mass-produced self-driving car, Google Glass is at least going somewhere, and Android is already very popular and enabling Google to get Ad revenue without being fought by Apple every inch of their way.
The stock price and market capitalization is driven both by current revenue but more so by these insane projects and the probability that there will be another big success.
EDIT: To those saying they're playing the long game; Playing the long game doesn't make sense. The long game is being fully wired. By the time poor areas become economically important enough to be advertised to, they will have traditional telecoms servicing them.
No, the long game is wireless communications (and renewable energy). One of the reasons for fast growth in some developing countries is the fact that they don't have to make the same investments in infrastructure that developed countries made in the past.
Give it a few more decades and they'll be wired just like everyone else.
And data rates of > 1 Gigabit for wireless connections are readily achievable these days. 
People say infrastructure is too expensive to build, it's not. When you have a discerning customer base with the purchasing power to demand it, infrastructure is the only way to serve it. Wireless cannot support that. As soon as the developing world stops being developing, in will come the telcos to build real kit.
#1 - The United States is wired for legacy reasons, our infrastructure was built 50+ years ago when wireless voice and data for the most part did not exist.
#2 - When I say "sparse" I'm referring to density of the target population, as in, the number of households per square mile.
It does make sense to run wired connections to dense urban populations, the cost-per-connection, particularly measured on a bandwidth-per-drop-per-dollar basis is great. Also, if you already have cable (either pairs of copper, or coax-for-TV) running to those people's homes, you've got a foundation for delivering data.
For most of the developing world in the next century (excluding the cities), communications, data, and entertainment will be in the form of wireless (Satellite, 3G, or directional 50 GHz+ data drops for backbones).
We won't be running cables to supply communities in the African countryside with high speed Internet. (We also won't be running it over 3G/LTE - which wouldn't be most people's choice for a wireless data backbone these days)
Wired connection is extremely expensive to deploy and very time consuming too, wireless, not so much. As a matter of fact there is no "nation-wide" wired internet service here, only local providers. New wireless providers are popping up almost every year...
It's been years since I've had a landline phone. I'm sure I'll eventually drop my landline high speed internet connection too.
In the developing world, cell towers connect to other cell towers wirelessly. That's a hack. It's the reason why hotel Internet blows. Not its proper use case, engineering-wise. Service sucks but the customer base isn't discerning enough to notice and wouldn't be able to afford better.
We have Clear Internet service in Atlanta. We had it for awhile, but crappy reception due to trees even though we were well covered by three towers made us go back to cable. Dialup would have been better. I had another friend within eyesight of a tower, he dropped it too because service got so crowded and bad that he couldn't stand it.
Current wireless technology could never replace wired and deliver the same quality of service that wires do. For proof, head down to your local Starbucks and try to get work done. I've not seen one yet where the connection didn't cut out at least once an hour. Radios degrade over time, copper doesn't.
I'm not sure it will be ever be profitable to run landlines.
The big issue being that there wont never be public and private monopolies again and that you dont run a line to a single costumer.
I fee bad that you can't believe that some people or company with money just wants to make the world a better place.
You said it yourself. Google probably won't make money. Maybe, just maybe, they just want to do something good.
Regarding the share structure, Google has two classes of shares, or maybe three by now. Class C shares don't get to vote, and I can't remember if they exist yet (IIRC they were voted into existence a year ago, but only pending various hurdles that I think might not have yet been cleared). Class B shares are worth 10x as much as Class A shares, for voting purposes. Guess who owns most (all?) of the Class B shares.
Anyway, the various share classes are all a bit beside-the-point. The real point is that when you add up all the votes, Larry and Sergey control a lot of them. And then there's Eric. And then there are a few CxOs/SVPs with meaningful shares. So basically a small group of people, who have led Google to its current state, are in control. Other shareholders are just along for the ride.
On top of all that, Google has always warned potential buyers that they don't give a shit about quarterly earnings, and they care about long plays and such, from the IPO forward. If minority shareholders were to sue the company for lack of fiduciary care, I think this would go poorly for them.
You could look up modern SEC filings to have a more-detailed breakdown, but here's a years-out-of-date summary I found with a few minutes use of... you guessed it.
> I feel bad that you can't believe [..]
the same could be said for naiveté.
They don't need to do this. Yet they do. That's good enough for me.
Though opening up their index and creating a search marketplace might seal the deal.
But think about it...right now they have a random bunch of 10 or so tabs (flights, recipes, patents etc) above the search box. Is that it?
To expand search to its full potential that list has to expand.
What better way to do it than create a marketplace? It would be a good experiment to run a pilot in some small country or city and see what happens. Unlimited API access to google search...any app built on top of that platform that gets X number of hits becomes another tab above your search bar...for a price...or advertisers could make it free cause domain based search can get them better targeting.
Developing areas don't have that existing infrastructure. Perhaps setting up a wired infrastructure will make the most financial sense. However, I don't think that's a foregone conclusion, and a pure wireless infrastructure may be far cheaper and more profitable.
It's not cheaper if you have to build that trunk line, and the latency and equipment start getting costly when you're looking at going tower-to-tower over a long distance, since with a single fiber you can run over 100km before you need another relay (and carry a lot more data).
Where this initiative by Google works is getting the rest of the world onto the internet somehow, and profiting off being the base-level service provider. Which would be quite a thing - a world where everyone could send some packet data at any time, would be very different to today where even leaving my house raises serious questions about how online I maybe over the next 48 hours.
They're playing the long game. They see the third world as a market in the making, and they want to be entrenched when it develops.
... And by that time, they will all be users of the google ecosystem thanks to this.
This project is not a branching out. This is what happens when it's cheaper to expand your market (create the pie bigger) than trying to cutting into market share (take a bigger bite out of the pie).
Driverless cars is no different.
I wonder if he has been involved with this project.
Starting with the darker background of the thermosphere and progressing into the twilight of the troposphere was a really nice touch. I also just noticed the small altimeter on the left of the page.
Also the whole phonetic wordplay with "loon" and "lunar" was cute. Coming from New Hampshire, I naturally immediately thought of the aquatic bird:
But the "lunar" aspect wasn't lost on me.
Kudos, this type of subtle design is refreshing in the wake of the iOS7 release.
However, in my mind, there is a potential issue that the article doesn't seem to mention.
How do they keep the balloons up for a long period of time, fighting all of the different variables of weather, gas leakage, temperature variances, material degradation due to being outdoors?
Fiber and copper stays in the ground undisturbed for decades, because it's cheap & low maintenance, barring from breaks.
While this seems cheap and easy to deploy, keeping it running is another thing entirely
OH! They're just going to make enough that there is always one overhead! That's so damn cool. I can barely believe it. Wireless technology is some of the most amazing stuff.
If you just try flying a kite on a good windy day an keep feeding it string, it will pretty quickly start loosing altitude.
The potential impact of a globally connected internet is crazy. No longer can a country fully filter/control all internet traffic.
This could be a major boon to democracy.
I wonder if Google did this, partially to piss China off.
This seems like an awesome way to get around the 'Great Firewall'.
In all seriousness, I'm curious how difficult it would be to jam this network.
Clearly, not. China has enough air power (including drones) to shut down any amount of the balloons.
Actually, kite fights are an old Asian tradition: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20101010110043AA...
Who says you can deploy them over china?
Who says you can't? As far as it seems, it will be circling Earth in low-orbit. Not sure China could stop them if they wanted to.
The amazing thing is this has been a rumor tossed around for years (2008).
It's like they are putting up cheap, disposable, steerable satellites up in the stratosphere! Genius.
Would be pretty interesting to understand the monitoring and control system for the balloons - not sure if they can bring back the failing balloons to a maintenance site to refurbish and relaunch them or they just dump the debris along with the failed balloon. I suppose at least the electronics aboard must be reusable for a time longer than the 100+ days the balloon stays afloat.
.1 - 1W Balloon height adjustments
.1 - .5W Flight tracking, control and management
.5 - 2W RF power and conversions (balloon-to-ground)
.5 - 2W RF power and conversions (balloon-to-baloon)
1 - 2W Packet routing, processing and baseband processing
Essential missing insight: how to they lower/rise the balloons and deflate/inflate them? With 100days service time you cannot simply vent gas. So a pump and compressor is needed?
Edit: there are more details here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5887330 Apparently they circle the Earth every 14 days.
Each balloon provides coverage to a 40km diameter area. That's a lot of balloons to cover rural Africa. It would help a great deal if the balloons could be made to stay in precise locations, like geostationary satellites. I thought maybe they had solved that problem (which would be amazing). But, I guess not. They said in the video that the balloons would follow the wind all the way around the Earth. Meaning, at any given time, the overwhelming majority of balloons are over the ocean. The difficulty, then, is not merely putting enough balloons up to cover the ground in 40km increments, but covering the ocean as well, in a solid band around the entire Earth. It's not hard to imagine that a stupendous number of balloons would be required to provide any meaningful level of coverage.
I think this is more Google hubris than technical innovation.
It doesn't help the way the landmasses are oriented in the southern hemisphere. I think it's a given that the majority of balloons will always be over water. They mentioned a demo in, I think, New Zealand with a handful of balloons. It would be interesting to know how long they'll have for the demo before the balloons are pushed out to sea, and whether the coverage area will be constantly drifting.
The video seemed to show the balloons in a thin band encircling the Earth. Aiming to cover a thin band would seem far likelier to be achievable than spreading them over a broad swath. They also mention using the steering ability to form them in clusters, which is probably what you'd need to solidly cover an area.
People say this as if this was a law of physics. It's not. The company buildings will not spontaneously combust if they try to do something that is not calculated to make optimal short-term profit. They prove, time and again, that they care about awesome/worldchanging more than they care about the money. As someone pointed out in other thread, they even structured their stock options so that grumpy shareholders who care only about short-term profit can't get in the way.
On another site, which was also on HN (http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2013/06/introducing-project-l...), they are more forthcoming about the scale of the challenge and the likelihood of success. I like the tone of that page much more than this one.
It's good to see the hard information, because this site is all marketing.
If this takes off that'll be possible. I could find a parking spot from the sky. :)
Q: WILL THE BALLOONS HAVE CAMERAS OR CAPTURE ANY IMAGERY OF THE GROUND?
Yes, that will be a two uncomfortable days of online nerd rage.
Me? If I want to publish pictures of my house, I would likely use some sort of internet service to do so... therefore:
The laws around private companies photographing private property are both (1) very restrictive and (2) well known and well tested in court. Compare that to warrantless spying only reviewed by a secret court – and even then the government fails to (1) keep it secret, (2) abide by their own court's rulings, or (3) successfully apply the intel to the stated cause of terrorist threats.
Basically, there aren't really very many things the government does well at all.
When Google wants to send a car down my avenue or fly a balloon over my house, they'll be regulated by laws that literally follow the Streisand effect... in other words, if I don't want you to see my backyard, I might have to put up a roof.
It'll be uncomfortable, yes. And maybe Google isn't the best company to publish live video of an entire continent to the internet. But if someone else doesn't beat them to it, I imagine Google is going there. What's your contingency plan?
I don't want some Google balloon watching me every step of my day.
Even less so if what it's seeing is published near-instantly
Also, does Google just subsidize the entire thing? How is this paid for long term? How is it so much cheaper than the alternatives that not only can they roll it out to 5-6 billion people, but also allow people living on cents a day to purchase the service?
This is a no brainer.
Project like these can be a really nice experiment on teaching and getting ideas from bored internet hackers.
Very well in line with their mission statement. I love it because it's so much "ah screw it we'll just try this crazy sounding idea"
[I wrote a paper during my university time that was a thought experiment on the availability of cheap internet for everyone...time to dig it up :D]
I wonder what implications this is going to hvae for NBN in Australia. They are spending tons of money to launch two satellites to provide access to remote towns. Google is showing they can do it for cheaper, possibly, and with Fiber they are showing gigabit FTH can be done cheaply...
That's the problem with mass media. Not only a lie spreads faster than the truth, it's also the only thing remembered after the dust settles.
I really hope every word they've written in there, reflects some of what their top management feels at a high level.
If my neighbour and I are 30km apart, and covered by the same balloon, does our traffic get turned around on the balloon, rather than hoping to the base station and then back again? I have to assume yes.
If we are 30km apart and we are actually connected to two neighbouring balloons, will they route traffic between them, and again, not via the base station? Again, have to assume yes.
So do I get a single IP address, or do I keep changing when the balloons are overhead? I assume I get a single IP address, but my home router is actually going to have to do some intelligent next hop routing.
Mesh networking is a challenging area when the base stations are fixed, with weather effects and moving end users an issue. Even more challenging when your "base stations" are moving, weather effects are significantly greater, and you're super limited to the amount of onboard processing you can do.
Assume it has to be something like BATMAN. http://www.open-mesh.org/projects/open-mesh/wiki/BATMANConce...
I couldn't imagine that Google would actually use Dish's spectrum to build a traditional cellular network. Building all those towers is a huge investment and I didn't think that played to Google's strengths. But, assuming that Loon needs licensed spectrum, maybe Loon (or something like it) was the plan?
I don't see the percentage for developed countries - seems maladaptive.
I for one welcome our new Google overlords.
Project Loon currently uses ISM bands (specifically 2.4 and 5.8 GHz bands) that are available for anyone to use.
Still doesn't explain how they achieve good quality link
Most countries seem to claim somewhere between 70Km and 100Km as their airspace.
If someone has more details on this, it's very welcome.
Besides, a lot has changed in the use of airspace and space in the last 8 years.
Yet, I don't know of any authoritative source for the actual current claims of most countries.
Imaging getting real time video from the stratosphere to everywhere all the time. The weather data alone would be awesome. The traffic data would be great. The IR imagery catching forest fires or amazon jungle burning would be great. An almost real time collection for finding illegal logging or toxic waste dumping.
When there are clouds of these ballons going overhead, who will notice an extra one or two that happen to have militarized payloads.
So will this litter the countryside, and even worse, the oceans with electronic equipment incl. highly toxic batteries? will they maintain and retrieve every single one of those balloons? who pays for that?
Q: WHAT STEPS IS PROJECT LOON TAKING TO BE ENVIRONMENTALLY RESPONSIBLE?
A: We are taking several steps to ensure Project Loon does not negatively impact the environment:
- We’re working to guide all balloons to collection points upon descent, so we can reuse, recycle, or dispose of the parts responsibly
- When balloons do not make it to one of these collection points, we will be offering a reward for reporting the location of the balloon so we can collect it
- We can track where the balloons land and we have a team of people who focus on recovering the balloons
- We'll have a boat for recovering balloons that go into the sea close to New Zealand
- We've started looking into using biodegradable films for our balloon envelopes
- Our balloons’ electronics are entirely solar powered.
Pulling them out of the deep ocean would likely be infeasible. They might be able to make them float, though, and get them when they wash up on a beach somewhere.
Edit: there are some answers here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5887330 They do have batteries.
It gave people free bandwidth in exchange for being a part of a global survelliance system. I hope Project Loon doesn't have such a dubious second nature.
Evading the censorship is a better idea but I am pretty sure China wouldn't allow such a thing to fly over their country. Or at least make it suffer with network attacks or DDOS or something.
Last time I checked range was around 30 miles, couple of stations will blanket a good area without the hassle these balloons bring (you need to pick them and relaunch every couple of weeks, etc...).