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Loon to be shut down by Google

Google reported on January 21 that it is closing down Loon. This endeavor was seen as complementary and competed with satellite networks to offer wireless connectivity via a balloon. In a blog article, Astro Teller, who serves as the head of X, the Google parent group Alphabet’s advanced ventures or “moonshot factory” branch, stated that Loon would shut down operations within the next few months. As an X member, Google began Loon in the year 2012 and spun it off into an independent business in the year 2018. Unfortunately, considering the team’s pioneering technological successes over the past 9 years,” Teller wrote, “the path to commercial success has proved much slower and riskier than anticipated. So we took the hard decision to shut Loon down.”

In a separate statement, Alastair Westgarth, Loon’s chief executive, gave a similar appraisal. “While we have discovered several potential participants all along the way, we have not found a method to lessen costs enough just to develop a stable, long-term enterprise,” he stated. “I’m depressed today to say that Loon’s going to be winding down.” Using long-duration balloons located in the stratosphere, Loon created technologies to offer wireless services. The balloons were effectively high-altitude cell towers, supplying mobile phones with LTE connectivity. Loon was primarily an experimental project for several years, but it started to shift into more routine activities in the past year.

Loon revealed in July 2020 that it had begun to offer commercial service in areas of Kenya, using roughly 35 balloons to deliver service over an area of almost 50,000 square kilometers.  Loon named its Kenyan deployment “the very first non-emergency utilization of Loon on a massive-scale basis to offer connectivity.” It was not revealed by Alphabet how much it invested in Loon. Loon, which was once spun off, generated $125 million from the SoftBank-backed financing in the year 2019. However, Loon had allegedly wasted the funds and, with its uncertain path to recovery, was unable to obtain sufficient capital. Loon was an instance of HAPS technology for high-altitude platform applications or in the stratosphere or remotely piloted aircraft to provide communications facilities.

Some in the space sector saw HAPS as a satellite rival. These devices provided communications services at reduced latencies and theoretically reduced prices than even the low Earth orbit satellites. Loon saw the system itself as supplementary to both satellites as well as terrestrial networks. In a statement unveiling its operation in Kenya, Westgarth stated, and “We don’t believe we can or should substitute the ground as well as space-based innovations that currently exist.” Together, terrestrial, stratospheric, as well as space-based technology can operate to support multiple areas of the globe and usage cases. The key would be to organize these different solutions so that they have a cohesive connection. Loon has been using satellites for backhaul communications, as do terrestrial network providers.

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