Alphabet shuts down its balloon-based internet alternative company

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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American tech giant Google’s parent company Alphabet is shutting down its internet balloon business, Loon, which aimed to offer a less expensive alternative to cell towers.

According to the company, it is winding down Loon after failing to find a sustainable business model and partners for one of its most prominent projects. “The road to commercial viability has proven much longer and riskier than hoped,” the company said in a statement.

Established in 2011, Loon intended to introduce connectivity to areas of the world where constructing cell towers are too expensive. The company uses high-altitude balloons in the stratosphere at an altitude of 18 km to 25 km to create an aerial wireless network with up to 1 Mbit/s speeds.

According to the reports, the wireless carriers that Loon saw as buyers of its technology have questioned its technical and political viability.

“While we’ve found several willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business,” Loon Chief Executive Alastair Westgarth said in a blog post.

Westgarth said the legacy of Loon will include advancing helium balloons to stay in the sky for hundreds of days and designing communications equipment that could provide cell coverage 200 times greater than an average tower would over an area.

Rich DeVaul, a founder of the project who is no longer with Alphabet, noted that surging demand for mobile connectivity made towers cost-effective in more of the world than he had estimated a decade ago, diminishing the need for Loon.

The technology previously proved successful in short projects to provide cell coverage in Peru and Puerto Rico when cell towers were downed by natural disasters. The firm had pitched countries and foreign organizations on contracting with Loon to fly in during future emergencies but gained no traction.

Loon further said that it may share its technology with carriers, governments, or non-profit organizations that seek to carry high-speed internet to other areas of the globe.