Loon acquires £97 million for balloon-based broadband

Loon, a project of Google’s parent company Alphabet, has secured £97 million ($125m) in investment from HAPSMobile, a project of SoftBank. In return, Loon will help HAPSMobile in its commercial roll-out later this year.

The use of airships and balloons to provide mobile network coverage is not a new concept, but such solutions tend to be temporary and fly at relatively low altitudes. In contrast, Loon’s balloons fly in a controlled drift 12 miles above the Earth’s surface. Due to the high altitude and practical concerns, Loon’s platform uses super-pressure, helium-filled balloons rather than traditional hot air balloons. The balloons are also solar powered, enabling them to stay afloat for months.

The CEO of Loon, Alastair Westgarth, said about the deal:

“We see joining forces as an opportunity to develop an entire industry, one which holds the promise to bring connectivity to parts of the world no one thought possible. This is the beginning of a long-term relationship based on a shared vision for expanding connectivity to those who need it.”

The high altitude of Loon’s balloons makes them a little more like low-altitude satellites, but users can connect to them with a standard 4G mobile telephone. The balloon can then relay data, if needed, to another balloon within 600km until it gets within range of a ground station. The data is then transmitted to, and received from, the ground station via a directional antenna. The technology enables connectivity to be enhanced in developing countries, which are often poorly served.

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