Internet signal-carrying weather balloon firm Loon to shut down

22 January 2021, 14:44

Loon balloon
1_gVWRbzQfifRe2TS-oYoKYQ. Picture: PA

The company had started as a Google side project before becoming its own business.

Loon, the company which created internet signal-carrying weather balloons to bring connectivity to remote parts of the world, has announced it is shutting down.

Having started out as an experimental side project within Google in 2013, Loon had grown to become its own company within Alphabet in 2018, the tech giant’s parent business.

In a blog post, Loon chief executive Alastair Westgarth said that despite progress with the technology behind the balloons, the firm had been unable to a find “a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business”.

Loon had aimed to provide internet coverage to rural and remote areas where receiving adequate connectivity was expensive and difficult, as part of efforts to bring more of the world online.

The high-altitude balloons use artificial intelligence to constantly track and respond to wind currents in the stratosphere in order to stay on course, with pumps fitted to each balloon which can inflate and deflate the device to move it up and down with favourable wind currents.

A number of trials and early programmes had been taking place, including a scheme in Kenya, but these have not led to a wider rollout of the technology.

“We talk a lot about connecting the next billion users, but the reality is Loon has been chasing the hardest problem of all in connectivity, the last billion users – the communities in areas too difficult or remote to reach, or the areas where delivering service with existing technologies is just too expensive for everyday people,” Mr Westgarth 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.

“Developing radical new technology is inherently risky, but that doesn’t make breaking this news any easier. Today, I’m sad to share that Loon will be winding down.”

He added that “while this isn’t the outcome I envisioned for Loon”, he hoped the company’s efforts “will live on in ways that we can’t yet imagine”.

By Press Association