Google's Project Loon aims to bring balloon-powered internet to remote regions around the world, and that's an ambitious goal any way you slice it. But we're starting to hear more about how Google plans to make its moonshot idea a reality. At the TechCrunch Disrupt NY conference earlier today, Googler Astro Teller revealed that the company actually went through a last-minute change in strategy before Project Loon was publicly announced.
The Google X team had spent six months negotiating with "large companies" to buy harmonized spectrum. "We thought this was absolutely critical to the project and we wanted to get it done before we launched," Teller said. But when the plan was presented to CEO Larry Page, he was largely unimpressed.
Larry Page changed the plan
"You’re going to hit a double. That’s not interesting," Page told the team. "You're going to be really frustrated. You’ll be angry at me for a week. But then you’re going to get creative. You’ll come up with a home run." To meet Page's expectations, the team opted not to buy "a relatively thin piece of harmonized spectrum" and decided Project Loon would instead use spectrum that's already owned by telco companies across the globe.
Rather than pay to license spectrum, Google will lease the balloons to carriers as they fly over countries where each company provides service. "That actually makes you feel much more comfortable that I’m not invading your country or I’m about to take your users," Teller said. "So now you and I can be great friends, and we don’t even need to buy the spectrum." This approach also gives Google a "much thicker wedge" offering far more bandwidth.
It makes sense on the carrier side, too. Companies rarely use spectrum in rural areas to its fullest potential because it simply doesn't make economical sense. This arrangement could see Google fill in the gaps with its "floating cell towers" that aim to bring internet connectivity to new parts of the world. The spectrum arrangement is just one aspect of Google's grand plan, however; there's plenty more that needs to happen for Project Loon to meet its true potential.