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Google’s internet balloon project is about to start its first commercial trial

A Loon internet balloon launches
A Loon internet balloon launches
A Loon internet balloon launchesLoon

It’ll be a crucial test of whether the technology can sustainably make money.

The news: Google’s internet balloon spinoff, Loon, is preparing for its first commercial test in partnership with Telekom Kenya, the country’s third biggest telecom firm, Reuters reports. The trial will let mountain villagers buy 4G services for an as yet undefined period. The project is expected to receive final approval from Kenya’s aviation authority this month.

Closely watched: The pilot, whenever it finally launches, will be a crucial test for internet balloons, which were originally conceived as a way to bring internet connectivity to remote areas. The high-altitude balloons create an aerial wireless network that communicates with an antenna system on the ground, powered by solar cells. There have been successful early (noncommercial) tests of the technology in Peru and Puerto Rico.

However: The Loon project has faced a number of problems. The balloons only last a few months before deteriorating, for example, and work only in sunny places because they rely on solar energy.

Superseded: Since Loon was conceived back in 2011, a growing number of companies have been racing to provide broadband connectivity from space, which may prove a more viable way of getting internet access to hard-to-reach places. 

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