Google Tests High-Altitude Balloons for Rural Internet Coverage

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Google has outline plans that it says could lead maybe to a network of high altitude balloons delivering internet coverage to rural areas of the world.

The company admits that it's very early days, but says that it has already built a system that uses balloons, carried by the wind at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes, to beam Internet access to the ground at speeds similar to today's 3G networks or faster.

There have been projects that use tethered balloons to deliver mobile phone coverage in disaster areas before, and there has long been talk of some sort of balloon based internet coverage for rural areas.

However, as Google found out, trying to stay in one place like this requires a system with major cost and complexity. So the idea they've pursued is based on freeing the balloons and letting them sail freely on the winds.

The next stage is working out how to apply some degree of control to the free-floating balloons so that coverage is uniformly spread across the target areas, which they say they have now solved.

This week the company started a pilot program in the Canterbury area of New Zealand with 50 testers trying to make internet connections to the balloons. A total of 30 balloons are being released as part of the trial.

They imagine someday that people will be able to use their cell phone with their existing service provider to connect to the balloons and get connectivity where there is none today.

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