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Google talks up balloon Project Loon antenna technology

Basic setup will become more complex in time for better connectivity
Mon Oct 21 2013, 12:29
A Network in the Sky

INTERNET GIANT Google has revealed some additional details regarding the technology behind its Project Loon that aims to bring WiFi connectivity to everyone on the planet.

Google network engineering lead Cyrus Behroozi showed off the project's internet antenna technology in a Youtube video, popping the lid off a bulbous shell to talk through what's inside and how it works.

Google's venture aims to liberate those five billion or so people on Earth without internet access by using balloons carried by the wind at altitudes twice as high as commercial planes to beam internet access to the ground at speeds similar to today's 3G networks.

In the video, Behroozi explained that there are two main components inside the shell: the radio in the bottom and the antenna towards the top, separated by a reflector plate.

The top is made up of two green parts that together are called a "patch antenna". These receive reflected waves that bounce off the reflector and go up into the patch along with direct waves. "These interfere constructively for the correct wavelengths the device needs to receive," Behroozi said.

The technology differs from that of a geostationary satellite dish because the balloons are not at a uniform distance from the antenna at all times.

"As most satellite rotate around the earth at the same rate that it revolves, and stay in the same spot overhead, the satellite dishes on the side of your house can be aimed in a particular direction and hit that satellite," Behroozi explained.

"With the balloons, because they are drifting overhead a fixed pointing dish will not work. They'll be further away when they aren't directly overhead and as they glide overhead they'll be closer then further away again, so the antenna has to have more sensitivity off to an angle than it does straight up, resulting in a uniform signal strength no matter where the balloon is overhead."

Google said it initially developed the balloons' technology as simply as possible while it got the basics working, and has the intention to add more sophisticated technologies to eventually increase the balloons' performance.

However, not everyone is in favour of Google's Project Loon. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates slammed the initiative in an interview in August, saying that it won't help solve core issues in developing countries, and  that the firm should be doing more to help the poor. Basically, Gates said that Google should be more like him. µ


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