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Google Australia Networking Wireless Networking Build

Google Floats Balloons For Free Wi-Fi 115

Posted by Soulskill
from the shannon-hartley-bernoulli-theorem dept.
New submitter BrokenHalo writes "Google has revealed that it has 30 balloons floating over New Zealand in a project to bring free Wi-Fi to earthquake-stricken, rural or poor areas. They're calling it Project Loon. '[W]e’ve built a system that uses balloons, carried by the wind at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes, to beam Internet access to the ground at speeds similar to today’s 3G networks or faster. As a result, we hope balloons could become an option for connecting rural, remote, and underserved areas, and for helping with communications after natural disasters.' Eventually, as the balloons move across the stratosphere, consumers in participating countries along the 40th parallel in the Southern Hemisphere could tap into the service. The technology will be trialled in Australia next year, possibly in Tasmania. If the latter happens to be true, then you'll probably hear the telcos' screams in New York."
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Google Floats Balloons For Free Wi-Fi

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 15, 2013 @09:36AM (#44014567)

    were Canadian dollar coins.

  • Tech specs (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 15, 2013 @09:38AM (#44014585)
    Each balloon is 15m (49.2ft) in diameter - the length of a small plane - and filled with lifting gases. Electronic equipment hangs underneath including radio antennas, a flight computer, an altitude control system and solar panels to power the gear. Google aims to fly the balloons in the stratosphere, 20km (12 miles) or more above the ground, which is about double the altitude used by commercial aircraft and above controlled airspace. Each should stay aloft for about 100 days and provide connectivity to an area stretching 40km in diameter below as they travel in a west-to-east direction. [1] [bbc.co.uk]
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Each balloon is 15m (49.2ft) in diameter - the length of a small plane - and filled with lifting gases. Electronic equipment hangs underneath including radio antennas, a flight computer, an altitude control system and solar panels to power the gear. Google aims to fly the balloons in the stratosphere, 20km (12 miles) or more above the ground, which is about double the altitude used by commercial aircraft and above controlled airspace. Each should stay aloft for about 100 days and provide connectivity to an

    • by aliquis (678370)

      Helium? I think we are wasting so much.

      • by Shavano (2541114)
        Is there any reason not to use hydrogen for this application? It's much cheaper. These balloons run unattended. They could be designed to automatically vent their hydrogen if their altitude gets too low. That would prevent any danger to people on the ground.
        • Is there any reason not to use hydrogen for this application?

          How do you know they are not using hydrogen? TFA does not say what gas they are using. So maybe they are using hydrogen but don't want to say so because of the idiots that associate it with the Hindenburg or hydrogen bombs. Thousands of people drown every year in a liquid that is 2/3 hydrogen, so there is no denying that it is dangerous stuff.

           

          • by Shavano (2541114)
            Did I say they were using helium? No I did not. Why are you asking me?
          • by aliquis (678370)

            Thousands of people drown every year in a liquid that is 2/3 hydrogen, so there is no denying that it is dangerous stuff.

            AND 11,89%? :)

      • Re:Tech specs (Score:5, Informative)

        by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @01:28PM (#44015683)

        Helium? I think we are wasting so much.

        The market is already fixing this. Helium prices are rising [bloomberg.com]. The primary reason for this is shale gas. Helium is a byproduct of natural gas production. Some gas wells in Texas contain as much as 4% helium. Gas wells outside the USA contain very little helium, making America the dominant producer. But America is switching to shale gas, which contains very little helium, and the helium producing wells are being shut down because they can't operate profitably with historically low gas prices. So helium prices are climbing, and frivolous uses are being curtailed. Disneyland Tokyo has already stopped selling helium balloons of cartoon characters.

         

        • by aliquis (678370)

          Good.

          Much better to use it for science and preferably only when you have no other option (well, depending on what the alternative is =P), seem so bad to just let it fly away into the air, litteraly.

          In this case I guess the amount used is different whatever it's 15m diameter on the ground or at their final destination.

          Anyway, I would feel guilty with regular ballons :D

          • by khallow (566160)

            Much better to use it for science

            Science uses aren't magically better than party balloon uses. I don't see ITER, for example, being a better use of helium than character balloons at Tokyo Disney.

            Part of the point of having a functioning market with relatively competent buyers and sellers is to decide who gets scarce resources without having to make dubious and subjective moral judgments. As the price goes up, the more spurious demands will drop out. Tokyo Disney finds some other way to entertain its guests while ITER gets the helium it

            • by dbIII (701233)
              The scramjet for one thing would not have got this far if not for using helium in the experiments (for many years on a tight budget). The gas used as the medium in the shock tunnel had to be different to the hydrogen used as fuel, but also had to be something with as high a wave speed as possible. That leaves a single choice.
              With respect to whatever you know about (there must be something so someday please demonstrate it here), just about everything on this planet is of more importance than character ball
        • by nadaou (535365)

          The market can not fundamentally fix this because the market can not create new Helium.
          The market can only slow the bleeding as the commodity becomes scarce.
          The only way to deal with it is by humans deciding to regulate it, and taking measures to enforce those regulations.
          Fish stocks are in a similar market-failure category, but at least after we're gone they will regenerate many of orders of magnitude faster than the He will.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Each balloon is 15m (49.2ft) in diameter - the length of a small plane - and filled with lifting gases. Electronic equipment hangs underneath including radio antennas, a flight computer, an altitude control system and solar panels to power the gear. Google aims to fly the balloons in the stratosphere, 20km (12 miles) or more above the ground, which is about double the altitude used by commercial aircraft and above controlled airspace. Each should stay aloft for about 100 days and provide connectivity to an area stretching 40km in diameter below as they travel in a west-to-east direction. [1] [bbc.co.uk]

      Can normal 802.11 b/g/ac devices talk to a base station 20,000 meters away?

      • Re:Tech specs (Score:4, Informative)

        by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @11:56AM (#44015131) Homepage

        Can normal 802.11 b/g/ac devices talk to a base station 20,000 meters away?

        TFA says nothing about 802.11 (aka Wi-Fi) - it seems that was an invention of the submitter.

        From the video:

        The balloons communicate with specialised internet antennas on the ground.

        • by i.r.id10t (595143)

          I would imagine that you'd need some sort of specialized antenna to reach 20km, no matter what signals are being sent or what is encoded in them.

          Still no mention of actual frequencies/protocols/etc

        • TFA says nothing about 802.11 (aka Wi-Fi) - it seems that was an invention of the submitter.

          No, it was in the title of the article I originally linked to. A few things got lost/changed in the editing process.

      • Re:Tech specs (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Brianwa (692565) <brian-wa@c[ ]ast.net ['omc' in gap]> on Saturday June 15, 2013 @01:40PM (#44015763)

        No, your laptop by itself couldn't, but the protocol is certainly capable of handling the distance if you tweak the timeout settings and have a powerful radio and a good antenna setup.

        They probably wouldn't actually use wifi though, some of the cellphone-based standards are more suitable for this type of system.

        To use this you would probably need an antenna and modem set up on your house, much like satellite Internet. It would still be a challenge though, I've streamed data off a balloon before and we were tracking it manually with a high gain antenna and used extremely slow data rates. They're going to be limited to solar power too, which limits their radio output power a lot.

        • One of the videos I watched about this said the wireless service would be "3G-like", but gave no specs. It is clear that it is not WiFi as we know it at home.

          When I read about this, I first wondered how it was going to play out with the effort of the NZ government to bring "ultra-fast broadband" to most of the country. That has been going on for several years and offers to continue for several more years before anyone can actually sign up. Even so, the government effort is only targeted at 75-80% of the
  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Saturday June 15, 2013 @09:49AM (#44014637) Homepage Journal

    I heard about the balloons this morning and thought hey, Google wants as many people as possible to see their ads. It's good for Google AND good for me, I applaud this.

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      you'll probably hear the telcos' screams

      Telcos? Who give a (sexual intercourse) about telcos, just imagine the scream at NSA when the traffic suddenly stops going through a backbone they control.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        NSA have their pipeline to google. Google probably do a better job at analytics than the average telcos.

      • You're missing the point. Telstra and Optus have got away with selling patchy, over-subscribed and under-performing services in Tasmania for years. They obviously consider it non-viable given the population base, despite their widely advertised claims. I experience this at first hand, since although I only live 30 minutes drive from what passes for a major town here, I can't get any kind of wired broadband to my home, and the closest cell tower I can access is 35km away.

        If an interloper can come along and
        • by c0lo (1497653)

          You're missing the point. Telstra and Optus have got away with selling patchy, over-subscribed and under-performing services in Tasmania for years. They obviously consider it non-viable given the population base, despite their widely advertised claims. I experience this at first hand, since although I only live 30 minutes drive from what passes for a major town here, I can't get any kind of wired broadband to my home, and the closest cell tower I can access is 35km away.

          Tricky. What's the NBN status there?
          Missing the point or not, I wouldn't hold my breath for Google loonies. If you do have direct line of site with somebody you can trust and closer to the node, you may consider P2P long range WiFi [wikipedia.org]. It's not that [whirlpool.net.au] unusual.

          • Tricky. What's the NBN status there?

            I would gladly help with the digging if the NBN was likely to come anywhere near me, but unfortunately it isn't.

            ...you may consider P2P long range WiFi [wikipedia.org]. It's not that [whirlpool.net.au] unusual.

            Now there's a thought..

            • by c0lo (1497653)

              Tricky. What's the NBN status there?

              I would gladly help with the digging if the NBN was likely to come anywhere near me, but unfortunately it isn't.

              ...you may consider P2P long range WiFi [wikipedia.org]. It's not that [whirlpool.net.au] unusual.

              Now there's a thought..

              wireless community networks in Tas [wikipedia.org], with the warning of: may be outdated.
              But perhaps a good point to start "digging" before starting to actually dig.

              Cheers

    • by Anonymous Coward

      And great for the NSA!

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'd just like to interject for a moment. What you're referring to as Google, is in fact, NSA/Google, or as I've recently taken to calling it, NSA plus Google.

      - RMS

  • Will Eric Schmidt allow one of those to float over his house? He doesn't like drones. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/apr/21/drones-google-eric-schmidt [guardian.co.uk]
  • In the end? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hedgemage (934558) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @09:54AM (#44014653)
    Ok, I skimmed through both articles in search of one answer.
    What happens to the balloons when they inevitably drift out of the intended coverage area and then crash? This technology is useful for a short-term disaster relief solution, but over the long term you're going to end up with a lot of balloons and electronic packages coming down all over the world.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      What happens to the balloons when they inevitably drift out of the intended coverage area and then crash?

      They know where the balloons are, and if they have spent enough money on lining the balloons then they will last a fairly long time.

    • Most will fall in the sea. Then they will get eaten by turtles. Think of the turtles...
      • by Jeremi (14640)

        Most will fall in the sea. Then they will get eaten by turtles. Think of the turtles...

        Wi-fi enabled turtles, hacking into through the Google backbone and taking over the Internet. You'll long for the good old days when it was only the NSA...

      • You did not read the article. The balloons have limited "steerability" in that they can be raised or lowered by signal, allowing them to move in differently-directed air currents at different altitudes. The plan is that when the balloon starts to falter, it would be "steered" over a collection center (multiple instances around the globe), where it would be "collected" and its payload become reusable. Sounds almost doable. In any event, there are not supposed to be lots of balloons randomly falling to earth,
      • by olau (314197)

        These will in turn be eaten by sharks.

    • Re:In the end? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 15, 2013 @10:03AM (#44014691)

      Ok, I skimmed through both articles in search of one answer.
        What happens to the balloons when they inevitably drift out of the intended coverage area and then crash? This technology is useful for a short-term disaster relief solution, but over the long term you're going to end up with a lot of balloons and electronic packages coming down all over the world.

      Evidently, you didn't skim enough. From TFA:
      '
      But using free-floating balloons introduces another problem: how to ensure they are where they are supposed to be.
      "We didn't want them to go just wherever the winds took them, we wanted them to go where the internet is needed on the ground," said Mr DeVaul.
      "You have to cause them to move up or down just a little bit through the stratosphere to catch the appropriate wind - which is how we steer them.
      "So we have to choreograph a whole ballet of this fleet, and that requires some impressive computing science and a whole lot of computing power."
      The balloons will communicate with Google's "mission control" where computer servers will carry out the calculations needed to keep them on track, monitored by a small number of engineers.
      The software makes adjustments to each balloon's altitude to take advantage of forecast wind conditions, and nudges the balloons up or down to find a more favourable stream when the predictions are not accurate.
      '

    • Re:In the end? (Score:5, Informative)

      by ian_mackereth (889101) * on Saturday June 15, 2013 @10:07AM (#44014701) Journal
      From Google's page:

      A parachute attached to the top of the envelope allows for a controlled descent and landing whenever a balloon is ready to be taken out of service.

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      They plan to sail the high-altitude winds to maintain a constant direction and velocity, forming a circle around the globe. Yes, it's quite a big project, but not physically impossible.

    • by Shavano (2541114)
      It's cheap hardware. On average, Google thinks they will make more on the service to pay for the attrition.
  • Mike's talk (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ZDroid (2938715)
    Mike Cassidy, head of the project, said:

    "There are many terrestrial challenges to internet connectivity – jungles, archipelagos, mountains. There are also major cost challenges. Right now, for example, in most of the countries in the southern hemisphere, the cost of an internet connection is more than a month's income."

    - Guardian [guardian.co.uk]

  • This is a noble thing for Google to do and I applaud them for it. I can't help but wonder though, why they can keep doing all of this 'out-there' projects (wi-fi baloons, driverless cars, Google fiber) and can't do a seemingly simple thing like keep Reader afloat. It's difficult to commit to using a Google product if you're not sure how long it is going to be around.
    • by brunes69 (86786)

      The cutting of reader had less to do with costs and more to do with pushing it's users into Google Plus (and Google Currents on Android). The simple truth is nearly any page that posts an RSS feed duplicates the content onto Twitter, Facebook, and G+ nowadays so the use of services like reader shinks more and more all the time.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    69 more balloons, and they should be red.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I think I know what the NSA was after that yahoo and Google fought against. The email meta data on everyone.

    Yahoo used 4th Amendment, i.e. it was American data because 4th Amendment defence can only apply to Americans.
    NSA took all the phone meta data, and we know they had internet taps so they would be use to grabbing the email meta data too.
    So they'll have forced Yahoo to hand over the meta data on sent emails so that yahoo to yahoo mail is grabbed.
    Facebook would have all the message meta data grabbed too

  • by seven of five (578993) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @11:36AM (#44015017) Homepage
    Balloon is too high for someone to receive a WiFi signal at ground level.
    • Indeed, and the article says nothing about Wi-Fi - the submitter added that in presumably because he thinks it means "any wireless data connection." TFA also isn't clear on how it's done, but one of the videos does mention specialised ground antennas.
  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @01:01PM (#44015499) Homepage Journal

    Imagine the tantrum North Korea will throw when one of these drifts through its airspace and gives the population unfiltered Internet access.

    They're not the only place that would have an explosion over uncontrolled Internet.

    • by Jeremi (14640)

      Imagine the tantrum North Korea will throw when one of these drifts through its airspace and gives the population unfiltered Internet access.

      Pissing off the North Korean government is indeed a nice extra feature... we enjoy pissing them off, they enjoy being pissed off. It's win/win!

      Of course it won't help the North Koreans citizens much unless they have a compatible antenna and a computer to attach to it, which seems unlikely for the forseeable future. :^(

      • by dbIII (701233)

        Of course it won't help the North Koreans citizens much unless they have a compatible antenna and a computer to attach to it

        A lot of phones have been smuggled in from China and they work within range of the Chinese phone towers. There was even a BBC story about a guy in South Korea ringing a relative in North Korea about an upcoming shortage of a type of sweet that's close to being a black market currency. That's a massive change from the usual information black hole (I know someone who may have living re

    • by dbIII (701233)
      That's already starting to happen in areas close enough to the Chinese border to get mobile phone coverage.
  • 1. For energy they tak the water vapour and electrolysis it to hydrogen. Sthen store the hydrogen.
    Being above the cloud line = tons of solar energy.
    So the battery and hydrogen storgae does not need to be very big.

    2. For altitude control just release hydrogen

    3. for electricity to run the on board system just use a fuel cell ? Well its a bit cold. So i image they will use batteries.

    4. For Moving left or right they COULD use some thruster. The amount of energy they are going to get from the PV energy collectio

  • by sjames (1099) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @01:56PM (#44015857) Homepage

    TFA doesn't specify WiFi though the ISM bands are specified. However, it's not impossible that it is WiFi, it has a much longer range [wikipedia.org] than you might think with the right equipment.

    • The balloons are traveling above air traffic. WiFi is never going to be enough no matter how you amp it.
      • by sjames (1099)

        Did you even LOOK at the link. I think 150 miles would be sufficient since the balloons aren't in space.

  • There's a company that has been selling blimps for cellular network coverage that float at 21 km height since 2006: http://www.stratxx.com/products/x-station/ [stratxx.com]
  • I hope they don't have high resolution camera's on board.
  • I thought Cloud Computing was a joke, but Google seriously wants to take computing to cloud!
  • Helium is a rare and precious resource. Whether party balloons or industrial balloons we need to ban the use of helium. Once it is used up we will be without it no matter how great the need.

    • by Mal-2 (675116)

      Helium is a byproduct of nuclear fission (as alpha particles) and a direct product of the most common earthly nuclear fusion, Deuterium-Deuterium (D-D). I believe it also occurs with proton-boron fusion. Helium is something that can be created, and most of those processes are also exothermic, meaning we'll be using them for energy production. Unlike most elements, helium does not HAVE to come from the ground or air.

    • Agreed. They should just use kites and/or hot-air balloons.
  • I haven't seen any analysis of the obvious white elephant in the room (and don't intend to provide any, because I'd be blundering around in an area where I have no expertise) - could this economically replace satellite-based telco operations? What would the tradeoffs be?
  • thinking of Doctorow's appearance in this XKCD? http://xkcd.com/345/ [xkcd.com]
  • Why not use electrolysis to keep the balloons filled with hydrogen. Why do there have to come back down to earth? I know for a fact that there is water vapor in the stratosphere. Also, I had the same idea when I heard of the US government program to research solar panels. I wonder if these "thin cell panels" were developed by the private or public sector?
  • We could use more of these. Telco bills are eating too much of my money already.

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