As surprising as it may or may not seem, around two thirds of the world’s population is not connected to the internet. In an attempt to lower this percentage dramatically, Google has launched a revolutionary campaign, known as Project Loon. Using giant helium balloons that are equipped to distribute WiFi to the area below, Google’s aim is to provide cheaper, more reliable internet service of at least 3G cellular speeds to those in disaster-stricken areas or those who have not had access to this luxury before, mainly in developing areas, such as in Africa and South America.
The balloons work in this way. These high pressure, solar-powered pieces of technology ascend to about 20 km above the Earth’s surface, which is in the stratosphere and about twice as high as planes fly. Sent up in clusters, these balloons connect to each other, which then connect to specialized antennas located on the ground, as well as the designated wireless internet distributor for a desired area. Anyone within a 24-mile radius of these balloons is said to have access to internet that is 100 times faster than what most consumers have been using today. Engineers on the ground are able to navigate these balloons by utilizing vertical motion and the wind patterns in the stratosphere in order to direct the balloon to its desired location.
From a cyber security aspect, however, this expansion of an already commanding industry does not appeal to some. Using its extensive reach, Google is able to track the behavior of its users and sell the information gained from this to advertisers. Privacy advocates have voiced their concerns with how much of the data retained by Google for projects such as this is being provided to the government. If Project Loon goes as well as planned, the amount of data possessed by Google could be rather detrimental should it fall into the wrong hands or any other mishap occur.
Thus far, the only launch that Google has conducted has been in New Zealand on the 40th parallel south. Project Loon launched 30 balloons from New Zealand’s south island in June of 2013 and the internet beamed to the pilot testers is being used to refine the project for its next phase. If Project Loon is a success, then five billion people who had little to no internet access prior to this campaign will be provided with a new tool and developmental aid, which will act as an enormous step for mankind as a whole.