In 2013 Google shocked us by announcing Project Loon, an effort to distribute wireless connections from balloons floating 20km above the Earth. Now, as first reported by Wired, Google’s parent company Alphabet is pulling the plug on it, apparently because it couldn’t make the whole thing commercially viable. Loon CEO Alistair Westgarth writes in a blog post that “While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business.”
In 2018, Loon (along with the Wing delivery drones) moved up from X moonshot projects to full-fledged divisions within Alphabet. But now X CEO and Loon chairman Astro Teller writes “despite the team’s groundbreaking technical achievements over the last 9 years, the road to commercial viability has proven much longer and riskier than hoped.”
It all started with a pilot project in New Zealand, ahead of tests in California and eventually emergency use in places like Puerto Rico and Peru. Loon has commercial partners using it right now in Kenya, and will continue to operate there until March. According to an X spokesperson, the company has established a $10 million fund “to support nonprofits and businesses focused on connectivity, internet, entrepreneurship and education in Kenya,” while Project Taara continues to operate in the region. Taara uses high speed wireless optical link technology originally developed for Loon to help connections reach remote areas.