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Internet via high-altitude balloons in Cuba


President Joe Biden was called by a Governor of the U.S. to greenlight a plan to transmit the Internet to people in Cuba via high-altitude balloons when their government has blocked access.


Prelims, GS-III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Delivering Internet by Balloon
  2. Drawbacks of the Loon
  3. Significance and benefits of the Balloon networks

Delivering Internet by Balloon

  • For years, Alphabet — the parent company of Google — worked to perfect an Internet-balloon division service called Loon, which was shut down in 2021 as it wasn’t commercially viable.
  • The Loon balloons were effectively cell towers the size of a tennis court which floated 60,000 to 75,000 feet (18,000- 23,000 meters), above the Earth, well above commercial jetliner routes.
  • Made of the commonplace plastic polyethylene, the balloons used solar panels for electricity and could deliver service to smartphones in partnership with a local telecom.

Drawbacks of the Loon

  • Each balloon could serve thousands of people, but hey had to be replaced every five months or so because of the harsh conditions in the stratosphere.
  • Also, the balloons could be difficult to control.
  • It would need an unused band of spectrum, or radio frequencies, to transmit a connection, and spectrum use is typically controlled by national governments. Anyone trying this would have to find a free block of spectrum that wouldn’t be interfered with.
  • Balloon- or drone-powered networks aren’t likely to be economical over the long term.
  • Developing algorithms to appropriately map balloon positions, determining a good strategy to deal with unpleasant weather and addressing the concern of relying on the non-renewable resources are among other challenges.

Significance and benefits of the Balloon networks

  • By allowing phone companies to expand their coverage where needed, the balloons are intended to offer countries a cheaper option than laying cables or building cell towers.
  • They are able to bring Internet access to remote and rural areas poorly served by existing provisions, and to improve communication during natural disasters to affected regions.

-Source: Indian Express

December 2023