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Nancy Mogire

High-Altitude Balloon Network Enables Cloud Collaboration

Nancy Mogire
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dstrait
dstrait
9/3/2013 2:25:25 PM
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Re: I'm always
I'll take a swing at this, but first I'd like to say that anything that brings more bandwidth to more people is a good thing. Even in well-developed areas, Loons could lead to increased competition and improved pricing. I've never heard anyone say that their cell phone bill is too cheap.
 
As far as shooting a Loon down, that seems unlikely. According to this Wikipedia article, the balloons fly "twice as high as airplanes". I'm assuming that "airplanes" means commercial traffic, which seems to mostly top out at 35-40 thousand feet. That would put the Loon working altitudes at 70-80 thousand feet. Advanced military aircraft can reach those kinds of altitudes. Advanced missile defense systems can hit targets that high. I think that both modern fighters and modern air defense missile systems are out of the reach of most countries in terms of costs. (You need figher planes developed in the last few decades, not helicopters or propeller-driven aircraft.) OTOH, plenty of countries buy F-16s.
 
That's not to say that poorly-equipped countries won't be able to score PR victories by claiming that they are being spied on by Loons. In the current environment, denial of such claims may not be believable. 
 
Even if the Loons are easy to destroy, They are harder to destroy than a cell phone tower. 
 
I doubt that a Loon will cost very much. Google must know that they will lose some of these things to natural attrition (Oops, the Loon came down in the ocean. Oops, the parachute didn't open properly. Etc.) and they shouldn't be too expensive to build. IOW, loosing a few Loons won't bankrupt Google.
 
I'd say that a weak point is the helium. We are supposed to be running out of helium.
 
There are a lot of details missing from the write-ups I've seen. Like costs. It feel like another one of Google's experiments. Google has developed of killing these off lately.
 
There are lots of operational questions. 
  • Transiting to and from operational altitude will require "regular" airplanes to pay heed. The balloon can't be steered, so the airplanes will have to be. The problem is trivial if there aren't very many of these things. The more there are, the bigger the problem will be.
  • The plan seems to be to allow the Loons to drift across national boundaries, floating in jetstream-like currents. There are airspace control issues. Not all countries will want these things flying over their territory, any more than they want spy satellites over their territory. Some of them might have actual security concerns. Others might just want to collect a toll.
  • I wonder what the loiter time is. Even with a coverage area greater than all of NYC, if the Loon is moving along at 50-100 MPH (and I have no idea how fast it would be moving, but I think high-altitude winds tend to move along pretty well), it won't be in position for very long. The shorter the loiter time, the more of these things will be needed to provide continuous service.
  • I don't know how much capacity a Loon provides. Given the large coverage area, it seems that Google expects very little traffic. IOW, these are better for areas that are not very populated and would never be appropriate for an area like a city, even if that city is fairly downtrodden. 
  • Out of school, I worked for a company that manufactured weather balloon equipment. "Balloon Gone Wild" stories were popular among the staff. (The punchline to most of those stories hinged on the fact that our products had "This Is Not A Bomb." written on them. The other punchline was that some cows will eat things that are bad for them. Cows can't read either.) What happens when these things come down in the wrong places, like the middle of someone's herd of cows? Or the ocean? Airport? Schoolyard? 
  • The trial, which is being run in New Zealand, doesn't use traditional WiFi, despite the many articles claiming otherwise. WiFi can't reach from operational height to ground level. There is some sort of google-provided ground station, but it's not small enough to plug into your laptop, which I think that many of us initially envisioned.
  • I'm pretty sure that latency is better with Loons than a traditional satellite service, but you aren't going to hook data centers together with these things.
 
 


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Shepy
Shepy
8/31/2013 5:50:15 AM
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Re: Facts on the ground
Satellite for those who could afford it, being in major hubs for others where cables were not needed to be ran etc. We're talking serious run down places like Uganda etc.

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Michael.Steinhart
Michael.Steinhart
8/30/2013 1:58:14 PM
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Re: Facts on the ground
That's a sad story, Shepy, but the question is, what form of communication technology is or was available in those areas otherwise?

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Michael.Steinhart
Michael.Steinhart
8/30/2013 1:56:54 PM
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Re: I'm always
I don't think there's anything wrong with risking unpopularity and voicing objections, as long as it's done in a civil fashion, Rich. What kinds of downsides could there be? Risk of oppressive regimes shooting these balloons down? 

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Michael.Steinhart
Michael.Steinhart
8/30/2013 1:52:41 PM
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Editor
Re: Facts on the ground
It's clearly very different, hash.era, and I think the primary difference has to do with two-way communication. The dishes you see set up for household TV reception don't have to do much communicating, as far as I know, whereas Internet/data usage involves uploading as well as downloading. The antenna stations - as depicted in the Loon videos - would probably be a lot bigger in satellite deployments.

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nanci
nanci
8/29/2013 12:50:04 PM
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Re: I'm always
Rich, -Re: I'm always surprised when people can't see the downside, but that's my naivete. Rather than risk being unpopular, I'll just ask if anyone else has seen problems here. If not, then that's okay, too

Please do expound what you mean...i am genuinely curious.

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Shepy
Shepy
8/29/2013 5:00:21 AM
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Re: Facts on the ground
"In the light of this, it is encouraging to see that Google is moving ahead with Project Loon. Essentially, the company is creating a network of high-altitude WiFi balloons, orbiting in the stratosphere some 20 kilometers in the sky."

Really watching this with interest, could be fantastic for some rural areas and some underprivledged areas. Working for a large telco previously, there were some places we simply would not install high bandwidth sub-surface cabling because it would be ripped up to be sold for scrap as quick as we could put it down, even if it was fibre and useless as they didnt know what was going in the ground till they'd already removed it!

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hash.era
hash.era
8/29/2013 4:24:55 AM
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Re: Facts on the ground
@Micheal: How different it is from the normal satellite tv technology and this ? Isnt it the same mechanism ?

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Michael.Steinhart
Michael.Steinhart
8/29/2013 12:44:17 AM
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Editor
Re: Facts on the ground
This is great information, Nancy, thank you! I think the ubiquity of satellite TV receivers may create the impression that it's fairly easy to set up orbital coverage. But Tim Tozer's point about how crowded things are up there is very relevant. We've got a veritable junkyard orbiting the planet. It's my hope that these Loon units are fairly simple in construction and reusable.

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nanci
nanci
8/28/2013 3:25:01 PM
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Re: Facts on the ground
Thanks Michael, As per available reports there have been tests in New Zealand and California so far. I also stumbled upon an interesting pictorial here.

The satellite question is an interesting one and it has been asked before. A direct answer attibuted to Tim Tozer an expert on wireless, satellite, and HAP communications at the University of York in Great Britain is as follows:

Satellites have revolutionized communications, but aren't without limitations. There just isn't enough satellite spectrum to go around for everybody in the world to do high-speed Internet via satellite and if you want high data rates, you need large antennae on the ground. Other limitations include cost, available launch vehicles, and orbital slots in an increasingly crowded low-Earth orbit.

Coverage with a network of stratospheric platforms may be cheaper than satellites and more flexible —the better to be deployed quickly where and when the platforms are needed.

You might have platforms sitting somewhere in a warehouse, and within 24 hours you could load them with whatever you need and fly them where they are needed.

Adapted from National geographic.

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