Alphabet closing Loon, who used a balloon alternative to cell towers

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In this news, we discuss the Alphabet closing Loon, who used a balloon alternative to cell towers

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OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) – Google parent company Alphabet Inc is shutting down internet balloon business Loon, which aimed to provide a cheaper business alternative cell phone towers, saying Thursday that “the road to commercial viability has turned out to be much longer and riskier than expected.”

Founded in 2011, Loon aimed to bring connectivity to areas of the world where building cell phone towers is too expensive or treacherous by using balloons along tennis courts to float solar-powered grid equipment above of the earth. But the wireless operators Loon saw as buyers of its technology have questioned its technical and political viability.

“While we have found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to cut costs enough to build a long-term sustainable business,” said Alastair Westgarth, Managing Director of Loon, in a blog post.

Alphabet chief executive Astro Teller said in another blog post that despite Loon’s “groundbreaking technical achievements” over the past nine years, “the road to commercial viability has proven to be much longer and longer. risky than expected.

Westgarth said Loon’s legacy would include advancing helium balloons to last for hundreds of days in the skies and developing communications equipment capable of providing cellular coverage in an area 200 times the size of the sky. ‘an average tower.

But among the challenges, a transporter would need multiple balloons at once, and each balloon cost tens of thousands of dollars and only lasted about five months.

Loon launched a pilot project in Kenya in 2020, years behind schedule after regulatory delays. His partner, Telkom Kenya, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The technology has already proven successful in short projects to provide cell coverage in Peru and Puerto Rico when cell towers were destroyed by natural disasters. The company had offered countries and international organizations to contract with Loon to have flights for future emergencies, but hardly gained popularity.

Loon said he could share his technology with carriers, governments or non-profit groups aiming to bring high-speed internet to the last places in the world.

The company employed 200 people in 2019. That year, it attracted a $ 125 million investment from SoftBank’s HAPSMobile, which is working on floating cellular equipment with drones.

HAPSMobile declined to comment on the financial effects of Loon’s closure, but said it “will continue to work towards our goal of developing a commercial enterprise.”

Meanwhile, companies backed by billionaire entrepreneurs, like Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos, continue to seek to provide Internet connections using satellites in orbit near the Earth.

Alphabet previously shut down what it calls “other bets,” or entities separate from Google, such as the one working on power-generating kites. Alphabet has lobbied some “bets” to raise funds from other investors or become self-sufficient. Loon struggled to attract investment.

The company maintains at least one “bet” on the sky – Wing, which aims to market the delivery of goods by drone.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Leslie Adler and Peter Cooney

Original © Thomson Reuters

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