• Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, called this week on the administration of President Joe Biden to greenlight a plan to transmit the Internet to people in Cuba via high-altitude balloons when their government has blocked access.
Can Internet be delivered by balloon?
• For years, Alphabet — the parent company of Google — worked to perfect an Internet-balloon division service called Loon. It shut down that project in January, saying it wasn’t commercially viable.
• Prior to the shutdown, Loon balloons had been providing service in mountainous areas in Kenya through a partnership with a local telecom, Telkom Kenya.
• The service also helped provide wireless communications in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which destroyed the island’s mobile network.
• Loon partnered with AT&T to make service available.
How does that work?
• The Loon balloons were effectively cell towers the size of a tennis court.
• They floated 60,000 to 75,000 feet (18,000- 23,000 meters), above the Earth, well above commercial jetliner routes.
• Made of the commonplace plastic polyethylene, the balloons used solar panels for electricity and could deliver service to smartphones in partnership with a local telecom.
• Each balloon could serve thousands of people.
• But they had to be replaced every five months or so because of the harsh conditions in the stratosphere.
• And the balloons could be difficult to control.
Mains Paper 3: Science and Tech
Prelims level: Internet through balloon
Mains level: Mechanism and challenges