Google to Offer Internet by Balloon

John Lister's picture

Google says it should have a network of Internet-carrying balloons circling the Earth next year. It will mean users in some parts of the world will be able to get a continuous Internet connection without access to cabling, phone lines or a cellphone network.

The idea is to use similar technology to satellite Internet, but at a considerably lower cost. The balloons, which carry radio transmitters and receivers, run on solar power.

The balloons will operate 12 miles above the ground, in the stratosphere, which isn't high enough to lock into orbit like satellites. Instead, the balloons will have a built-in positioning system which can move them just far enough to get caught up by winds that have been calculated to get them to the right position.

Balloon Internet Speeds Similar to Cable Broadband

Google has been publicly working on the technology since 2013. The idea is to have enough balloons circling the Earth at close enough distances such that people at a particular latitude will always have one balloon passing close enough overhead to maintain a constant signal.

Each balloon can give a signal to a circular area covering a 10-mile radius from the point on the ground directly below it. The download speeds should reach around 10 megabits per second (approximately 1250 kb per second), which is similar to the average fixed-line broadband connection in the US.

The company has now announced it has not only extended the lifespan of the balloons (now to around six months) but drastically cut down the time it takes to launch each one. As a result it believes it should be able to launch the 300 or so balloons needed to stretch round the world. (Source:

Exact Service Location Not Yet Confirmed

For now Google is only saying the ring of Internet balloons will be in the Southern Hemisphere. It has previously run tests in New Zealand, Australia and South America, so it is likely that this will be the first "ring" that gets complete service.

In the longer term, Google plans to target Indonesia, one of the most populated countries with a low proportion of Internet access. That's caused largely because the country of 255 million people is made up of thousands of islands, many with unforgiving terrain, making it expensive and impractical to build cabled networks. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Does balloon-powered Internet sound like a smart idea? Do you think it could be economically and practically viable to offer it in developed nations such as across North America and Europe? Can you see any drawbacks to the technology?

Rate this article: 
Average: 4.9 (8 votes)


Dennis Faas's picture

This is all very fascinating, but I'm wondering how they will collect balloons that either run astray or deflate earlier than expected? That said, I'd like to see the day that their Internet service is offered all around the world - any competition to the big carriers is welcome and will surely lower the price of broadband.

beach.boui's picture

The FCC has mandated that internet service cannot be called broadband if downstream bandwidth is less than 25Mb. So, while 10Mb service might be welcomed by those who have less, it can't really be compared to modern cable broadband. It's more like middling DSL service. Charter cable's standard household service is now 60Mb downstream. Now, that's broadband!