The connection originated from the ground at our launch site in Nevada, where packets of data were transmitted to a balloon 20km overhead. That data traveled nearly 1,000km along a network of six additional balloons, going from desert to mountains and back again. A few weeks later, we achieved another milestone by successfully sending data over 600km between two balloons — our longest point-to-point link to date. These connections were made using custom-built antennas mounted to the bottom of our communications payload. Their accuracy is equivalent to throwing a ball 100 meters and landing it in a wastebasket. In this case, however, the wastebasket was in constant motion in the stratosphere.
Why does this matter? It has everything to do with reach.
The thing about people is that they tend to live all over the place. Even with our balloons’ expanded coverage area — which is 20 to 30 times greater than a traditional ground-based system — there are people who live outside the reach of one of our balloons operating adjacent to a backhaul connection on the ground. If we can extend our reach by passing that connection across a network of balloons, like a cosmic soccer team advancing the ball through the sky, we can cover far more people.
But here’s the best part: We’re not simply extending the connection to the last balloon in the line. Each balloon in the network is capable of passing that connection to other balloons while simultaneously using it to connect users on the ground. Instead of one balloon utilizing one ground-based connection point to serve users, we can use that same terrestrial access point to activate a network of multiple balloons, all of which can connect people below. In this way, we create a web of connectivity to serve users without having to build lots of new infrastructure on the ground, which is a significant obstacle to bringing traditional access to unconnected and under-connected communities around the world.
For a long time, a fundamental constraint of connectivity has been proximity, or a lack thereof, to where the internet is now. Loon is working to change this reality by making the internet reach further. With billions of people lacking connectivity there’s a lot of ground to cover. As we prepare to launch commercial service starting in 2019, our ability to make connections across more balloons and longer distances will be a key enabler of our efforts to connect people everywhere.