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Google wants to start beaming internet from its high-altitude balloons next year

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One year ago this Saturday, Google first presented its plans for Project Loon, a program aimed at blanketing the globe in internet from connected balloons hovering high above the earth. Since then, Google has only given a few updates about its ambitious plan, but today it tells Wired that it has a lot in store for Project Loon over the next year. Namely, that includes actually getting the program up and running and having real people use it. "On Loon’s two-year birthday, I would hope, instead of running experiments, we’ll have a more or less permanent set of balloons," Google X leader Astro Teller tells Wired. "In one or several countries, you will turn on your phone and talk to the balloons."

"In one or several countries, you will turn on your phone and talk to the balloons."

Though Google's been conducting test flights for Loon, it soon plans to put more in the air at once and for longer periods of time. According to Wired, it wants to quadruple its current figures to 100 balloons in the air for 100 days each. Eventually, it'll elevate that to between 300 and 400 balloons, enough to continually offer service to its still-unnamed target area.

Google has also boosted the capability of its balloons over the past year, adding on LTE as their means of connectivity, rather than Wi-Fi. According to Wired, that's allowed for more connections at once and speeds of up to 22 MB/s to an antenna on the ground and 5 MB/s to a phone. That's not particularly speedy for a phone, but it's not bad at all given the circumstances — so long as those speeds can be maintained once more people are using Loon.

Project Loon's balloons appear to have made big advances all around. Even the fact that they're now staying in the air for 75 days or so is impressive, according to Wired. Traditionally, a similar balloon might last just three weeks. Though Loon's goal is to bring internet to areas of the world that still aren't wired up, Google is already reported to have started eyeing ways to use Loon for profit. The balloons could fill in coverage gaps even in the US, or — because they're using LTE — they could even extend the roaming ranges of big carriers.

That's still a secondary goal to bringing internet to populated areas that don't have proper access to it though. Loon's balloons still need a lot of improvements to get there, but Google is optimistic that those will come. Mike Cassidy, a Google X project director, tells Wired, "We’ve definitely crossed the point where there’s a greater than 50 percent chance that this will happen."