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Google’s balloon-based internet project Loon discontinued

Loon, Google parent Alphabet’s ambitious project to provide internet access to underserved areas through balloons carrying radio equipment, has been shuttered, the company announced in a blog post on January 22nd. Astro Teller, who heads Moonshots at X, the Alphabet subsidiary in charge of such emerging technology, said:

Sadly, despite the team’s groundbreaking technical achievements over the last 9 years — doing many things previously thought impossible, like precisely navigating balloons in the stratosphere, creating a mesh network in the sky, or developing balloons that can withstand the harsh conditions of the stratosphere for more than a year — the road to commercial viability has proven much longer and riskier than hoped. So we’ve made the difficult decision to close down Loon. In the coming months, we’ll begin winding down operations and it will no longer be an Other Bet within Alphabet.

Even though Loon in particular is no longer going to be a reality, a far more ambitious idea seems to be gaining traction — low earth orbit satellite constellations, such as SpaceX’s Starlink and Bharti–UK Government-owned OneWeb. Both companies are either offering a small beta or are planning to do so this year, and have planned to put thousands of satellites in the sky, blanketing the planet with connectivity. SpaceX has indicated that it would like to provide connectivity through Starlink in India, and satellite internet constellations may play a role in getting coverage to remote areas.

Google said that it would start a US$10 million fund to promote connectivity in Kenya, where it was piloting Loon. The company said the fund would be focused on “support[ing] nonprofits and businesses focussed on connectivity, Internet, entrepreneurship and education” in the country.

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