NAIROBI, 24 January 2021 – Google’s parent company Alphabet is shutting down Loon, a subsidiary spun out from its research labs to use hot-air balloons to deliver cellular connectivity from the stratosphere.
On Thursday Alphabet pulled the plug on Loon because it did not see a way to reduce costs to create a sustainable business, the project’s chief executive officer said in a blog post.
The failure after six months of trails means the rural poor across Africa and elsewhere in the world will have to wait a little longer before gaining access to reliable, affordable 4G Internet service.
One of Alphabet’s pilot project, set up to provide affordable Internet access to Kenya’s rural poor – the only one ongoing in Africa, according to sources close to Google – will shutdown next March.
The pilot was set up to make it possible for people in rural Kenya to browse the Internet, stream videos, make video or voice calls for free, send email and texts and other functions.
Loon was expected to build up to 35 giant solar-powered balloons from which 4G Internet was to be beamed to rural areas.
The self-navigating ballons, each the size of a tennis court, were to stay in constant motion in the stratosphere.
Loon was one of the most hyped “moonshot” technology projects to emerge from Alphabet’s research lab.
“The road to commercial viability has proven much longer and riskier than hoped. So we’ve made the difficult decision to close down Loon,” Astro Teller wrote in a blog post Thursday.