Project Loon Will Provide Wholesale Backhaul for Mobile Operators

Perhaps surprisingly, commercial service of a potential new fleet of tens of thousands of Google Loon balloons hinges on the willingness of mobile service providers across several continents to use the system for backhaul.

As currently envisioned, the system of free floating but somewhat steerable balloons would relay signals from mobile service provider cell sites, using Long Term Evolution 4G signals, directly to and from end user LTE mobile devices.

That means the balloons transmit in the the 2.2 GHz and 2.6 GHz LTE bands used in  those bands the United States, Europe and Asia, with expected new tests of the additional 700-MHz frequencies that will allow coverage from any single balloon to increase from about 40 kilometers to perhaps 160 kilometers.

The wholesale model now envisioned for any future Project Loon commercial service, making it an extension of mobile operator core infrastructure, is why mobile operators in New Zealand, Australia, Chile and Argentina have happened.

Though a somewhat complex undertaking, involving perhaps tens of thousands of balloons at full network deployment, it now is expected that hundreds of balloons will need to be launched every day to maintain the fleet, assuming a 100-day life cycle for each balloon.

Balloons stay in communication with Google, for tracking purposes, using the Iridium satellite network.

Crossing the earth at an altitude of around 60,000 feet, Project Loon is perhaps the best example of the “mesh style” also favored by new proposed fleets of low earth orbit satellite constellations.

In a perhaps-surprising development, Project Loon now appears to be a way for mobile satellite operators to extend mobile Internet access across both southern and northern hemispheres at lower cost than would have been the case using traditional macro cell sites.

And that makes Project Loon a tool for mobile operators to add hundreds of millions of new users before the new LEO constellations begin to launch.
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