Google’s parent company, Alphabet is shutting down its subsidiary – Loon which uses high-altitude balloons to provide internet service to rural and remote areas.
On Thursday, January 21, Alphabet announced that it is not continuing the venture to provide wireless connectivity by floating balloons, after failing to find a commercially viable model. In a blogpost, Astro Teller, head of X, Alphabet’s moonshot division, revealed that Loon will halt its operations in the next several months. Loon was launched in June 2013 as part of X and became an independent company in 2018.
“Sadly, despite the team’s groundbreaking technical achievements over the last 9 years,” Teller wrote in the blog post, “the road to commercial viability has proven much longer and riskier than hoped. So we’ve made the difficult decision to close down Loon.” He acknowledged Loon’s efforts on doing things previously thought impossible, like navigating balloons in the stratosphere, creating a mesh network in the sky, and developing balloons that can withstand the harsh conditions of the stratosphere for more than a year.
Similarly in a statement, Alastair Westgarth, chief executive of Loon, said, “While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business.” Also, he added, “Today, I’m sad to share that Loon will be winding down.”
Westgarth said Loon’s legacy would include developing helium balls to last hundreds of days in the stratosphere and communication equipment that can deliver cell coverage across an area 200 times larger than an average tower can.
But a carrier would need several balloons at once and each balloon cost tens of thousands of dollars, and last only about five months.
Last year, Loon launched a pilot project in Kenya after years of long regulatory delays. The project aimed to provide 4G internet service over a region of around 50,000 square kilometers by launching its balloons into the stratosphere.
Loon had also received popularity after it helped to restore connectivity services knocked out by a hurricane in Puerto Rico in 2017. In 2019 too, Loon deployed its balloons to provide internet service to Peru after the connection was cut short by an earthquake.
However, Loon has not achieved much success with its contract deals with its targeted countries and international organizations.
Loon is not only the subsidiary that Alphabet has terminated. It is shutting Makani, the moonshot factory which aimed to use wind turbines attached to kites to generate renewable energy. Besides it, Project Foghorn, which sought to create clean fuel from seawater, was also shut down in 2016.
Image source: Loon