Google is stepping up its effort to deliver Internet service from the sky, according to a report that says the giant tech company is hiring aerospace experts to work on a plan for deploying satellites that would beam Internet connections to remote parts of the world – at a projected cost of $1 billion or more.
We’ve reported on Google’s aerial ambitions before: Through its “Project Loon,” the company has field-tested the idea of encircling the globe with hundreds of helium balloons, each carrying an Internet transmitter, to help provide connectivity in less-developed parts of the world.
Then earlier this year, Google bought a New Mexico-based startup, Titan Aerospace, that builds unmanned vehicles capable of flying long distances and durations. That deal came after Facebook reportedly looked into buying Titan and, eventually, bought a British drone company instead.
Facebook is also working on its own plan for delivering Internet service to under-served regions. It’s kind of the latest cause for big Internet companies, although it’s not entirely altruistic. Both Google and Facebook want to expand their business in new markets around the world, so it’s in their interest to help more people in those regions get on-line.
Now the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Google has been hiring satellite engineers and technical experts, including Greg Wyler, who founded the satellite communications firm O3b Networks and recently joined Google to lead the new project. The tech news site The Information had previously reported on Google’s effort to hire satellite experts.
Google hasn’t confirmed any specific plans, but some experts suggest that drones or satellites may prove to be more practical than balloons for delivering Internet service on a large scale. Drones may be easier to control and steer from the ground, while satellites can remain in orbit for decades.
Still, when it comes to a cool-sounding name, it’s hard to top “Project Loon.”
(NASA satellite image of the Earth from 2012/Associated Press)