Google parent Alphabet is pulling the plug on its Loon balloon internet business

By: |
January 22, 2021 5:32 PM

Google brought an end to the business saying that the road to commercial viability for the service has been proven to be riskier and longer than they had hoped.

Google parent company Alphabet Inc. Loons, communication helium baloon Loons, Loon shuts down, why Google shuts down Loon, Loon commercial viability, Loon pilot project in kenyaAlphabet Inc to shut down Loon, its internet communication balloon based business. (AP Image)

Google parent firm Alphabet Inc is bringing shutters down on internet connectivity balloon business Loon that was aimed at giving a cost-effective alternative to cell towers for cellular connectivity in rural or remote areas. Google brought an end to the business saying that the road to commercial viability for the service has been proven to be riskier and longer than they had hoped.

When the Loon business was launched in 2011, Google believed it would make internet communication more viable ensuring connectivity in areas where building cell towers was not easy. Loon balloons, the length of tennis courts to float solar-powered networking.

Loon chief executive Alastair Westgarth said in a blog post that although they found many potential buyers they couldn’t find a way to get the costs low to build a long-term sustainable business model. Alphabet executive Astro Teller also expressed a similar view that although Loon was a ‘ground-breaking’ technological innovation it was not as commercially viable as they thought it would be.

Loon was efficient at lasting hundreds of days in the sky with communication equipment that would deliver cell coverage across an area that is 200 times more than what a tower can cover. The project aided communication in Peru, Puerto Rico when cell towers were downed by natural disasters.

But the major challenge that this helium balloon business will face is they will last in the air only for five months and buyers will need hundreds of them when on balloon costs tens of thousands of dollars. Loon’s pilot project was launched in Kenya in 2020 years after it was scheduled after a regulatory delay from government authorities there. Google also tried reaching out to other countries and international organization to use Loons during emergencies but got little positive response.

Loon employed 200 people and signed an investment deal of $125 million with SoftBAnk’s HAPSMobile that was also floating cell equipment with drones. HAPSMobile said it would “continue to work toward our goal of developing a commercial business.

Companies by other billionaires like Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, however, continue to look at extending the business to offering internet connections using satellites in near-Earth orbit.

Alphabet has also shut down “other bets” its subsidiary businesses separate from Google. Alphabet asked the “bets” to be self-sustaining but Loon struggled to attract investment. One such” bet” -Wing, which is aiming to commercialize goods delivery by drones, however, stays.

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