Mesh networks might be a significant new factor in the Internet access business across much of the Global South.
By linking it “Project Loon” balloons together in a mesh network, where ground signals can be relayed directly between balloons, Google can now provide coverage for an entire region such as West Africa using only about eight ground stations, according to Bloomberg.
In the past, Project Loon balloons used for delivering Internet access had to have a direct link to a mobile cell tower on the ground. Given Project Loon’s objective of providing service to “hard to reach areas” where such towers are in short supply, that was a constraint.
Now traffic can be relayed from balloon to balloon, allowing any single balloon to remain connected with any single cell tower 400 kilometers to 800 kilometers distant.
Other new contestants in the Internet access and transport business, including LeoSat, plan to use a mesh network as well, and for similar reasons, allowing a single uplink and downlink for traffic, no matter how far it has to travel across the face of the earth.
The new mesh configuration solves an existing problem, namely the fact that single balloons, communicating with single base stations, can provide only intermittent service.
Project Loon is conducting trials in Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Brazil, and other countries,
But it is conceivable Project Loon will be able to provide commercial service by the end of 2016, in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia.
The other noteworthy angle is that use of cell towers makes some mobile service providers potential partners for Project Loon, in either a wholesale or retail capacity.