X, the Alphabet division working on moonshot projects, has released a statement regarding the rumored spin-off of Project Loon. In a tweet, the company acknowledged the presence of rumors concerning its internet initiative and categorically stated that Project Loon is still a part of X. The rumors emerged after a recent filing with the Federal Communications Commission referred to the moonshot as Loon Inc. This is not the first time that a moonshot project became an independent company, with Waymo being a very recent example. Researchers from X have been working on a self-driving car project for a number of years before Waymo became a standalone operation last year. In addition, Alphabet is involved in other moonshot projects that may become independent operations in the future, including its clean energy storage tech project called Malta.
Project Loon is expected to earn money by selling infrastructure to carriers across the globe. Last year, Google started collaborating with Indian network operators in order to give internet access to residents living in areas that lack communications infrastructure. The company aims to send multiple balloons at high altitudes, with each balloon serving either as an LTE base station or as a Wi-Fi hotspot. Since then, Google has inked deals with local carriers in order to use licensed spectrum to provide last-mile connectivity, in addition to utilizing unlicensed 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz spectrum. Aside from the base station equipment, each balloon contains relay facilities that enable point-to-point communication. Each balloon could offer download speeds of 10Mbps and have a range of 20 kilometers, or 12.42 miles.
The research and development behind Project Loon started as early as 2011, although it was only officially announced in June 2013. In the same month, Google conducted the first test of its technology in Christchurch, New Zealand, and additional pilot programs were organized in Australia, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile soon afterward. It has also collaborated with a number of research institutions and government agencies. A notable example of this collaboration is the joint venture formed by the Sri Lankan government, telephone service operators, and Google which allows existing wireless carriers to expand their reach to remote areas in the South Asian country.