When Google X first launched, the goal was to work on ideas outside of the typical world of software and services, including things like an air-wind turbine, an artificial human brain and immortality.
As these projects became more than the simple engineer ideas, Google started to work on business plans, making sure that when it launched the service it wouldn’t be a financial cripple on the company.
For Google Glass, it envisioned a marketplace similar to Android, along with a new type of wearable which it would sell alongside partners. For self-driving cars, Google wants to offer the platform to automotive companies, alongside potentially creating its own.
For Project Loon, Google’s goal is even larger: offer internet to remote areas in the world, working with telecoms from the region to give access outside of normal commercial zones.
Project Loon is essentially a large hot-air balloon with an LTE tower inside, and Google wants to have thousands of them floating in low-orbit, transmitting wireless data to people’s smartphones and tablets.
It does this by remote controlling the balloons through the course, and when one balloon goes out of range, another comes into range. Google uses helium in one balloon and air in a smaller one inside to balance out the route.
In just two years, Google has pushed Project Loon’s average time spent in the air from five days to 100, the longest flight hitting 178 days. This is good enough for commercialisation, but Google is adamant about offering a consistent experience before offering Loon to telecoms.
At the start of commercialisation, Google will offer Project Loon to Africa, Asia and South America, where huge areas of zero-connectivity give it a lot of room to grow. The low cost LTE data means Google can make money even in the lowest income regions.
It will then progress to other countries, potentially allowing rural areas in Europe and North America to have access to LTE internet, while it cannot connect to broadband or LTE from telecom providers.
This is a huge potential market for Google, especially if it can win over telecoms in Asia and Africa. The large landscape means it could give millions of people low-cost access to the internet, potentially undercutting telecoms in the region for direct access.
The plan is still being worked on, but Project Loon is closer than any other Google X project to becoming a real commercial winner for Google.