Loons in balloons: Google asks FCC to approve Net plan

Microwaves in the sky

Google provides great mobile coverage for Yetis

Large balloons firing data are nothing to worry about, Google has told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in its latest license application.

The people behind Project Loon, Google’s floating internet platform announced in June 2013, have successfully tested the system across the world and now want the silver machines over American skies.

The Loon balloons are designed to bring LTE access from 20km up from base stations that dangle below a balloon. A parachute is included as a backup.

In November, Google requested a two-year license to conduct experiments in the 71-76 and 81-86 GHz bands over US airspace, known collectively as the E-band. Since then the FCC has been receiving complaints about the plan, largely it seems from people worried about radio frequency (RF) exposure.

"A big NO to Google's idiotic Wifi weather balloons. Even the Dept. of the Interior finally realized that microwaves were messing with birds. If microwaves are messing with birds then WTF is it doing to us? I don't want Google's microwaves hitting me!," writes one.

"Also, do a search for weather balloons crashing. What goes up, must come down! Google's balloons (with equipment attached) can and will cause some serious damage, injury and loss of life when they come down 'accidentally'".

Over exposed

In the new filing Google said that the experiments would result in a lower RF exposure rate than that which is currently allowed. Loon operates well within the guidelines set for power and emissions standards it said, and those worried about RF exposure have nothing to fear.

"Although we respect that the commenters’ concerns are genuinely held," the filing notes, "there is no factual basis for them."

"Transmitted power levels from airborne transmitters will not exceed -2 dBW and EIRP will not exceed 41 dBW, well below the maximum power allowed in the band. Receivers or persons even slightly off-boresight from the directional antennas will receive only a small fraction of the maximum transmitted energy."

As for interference with other radio systems, Google promised that only a few transmitters would be active at any one time and that its “proprietary interference-mitigation methods,” would ensure there were no local problems.


The FCC will now deliberate once more on whether or or not Loon’s will float in the skies over the US. If Google does get the application, tests successfully, and gets a license for commercial deployment, the cat really will be among the pigeons.

As we’ve seen with US fiber deployments, Google is adept at disrupting the long-standing cozy oligopoly that has run US ISP business with very little competition. In the cities where Google Fiber has deployed the existing telcos have been forced to pick up their game and prices for access have dropped.

Mobile networks could be next. Verizon and AT&T have ruled the roost for a long time, thanks in part to the difficulties in covering a nation as large as the US, and as a result Americans pay through the nose for mobile access. T-Mobile’s trying to change that but doesn't have network coverage, but Project Loon would.

For the last year Google has been doing a limited rollout of Project Fi, using LTE and Wi-Fi networks for calls, as part of the company’s first move into becoming a mobile provider. If the Chocolate Factory set up the equivalent of Google Fiber in the sky Project Fi could become very interesting indeed. ®

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