How are Google's internet balloons holding up after one year?

It’s been a full year since Google announced Project Loon, its plan to bring Internet service to the world with an army of high-flying balloons. In that time the project, which grew out of the company’s Google X facility, has certainly hit a few speed bumps, but moving into its second year Google is confident Project Loon could soon become a leading Internet supplier in some parts of the world. In its first year of experimentation Google’s balloons have improved drastically. They now offer ten times the bandwidth, steer ten times as well and stay up for ten times longer than they did when first announced. The company tells Wired that at this point it’s more than 50 percent likely Project Loon will become a reality. The speeds aren’t anything to laugh at, either. The balloons are able to send connections with throughput hovering around 22MBps to the ground, and 5MBps to mobile devices, Wired said, though those speeds will likely slow drastically as more users and devices share the network.

Earlier this month, Mike Cassidy, a project director at Google’s high-risk research division X, woke before dawn in the Northwest Brazilian state of Piauí. It was already warm and humid. He drove for an hour to a clearing in a rural area and helped his team launch several high-altitude balloons with a payload of Internet connectivity technology—the nub of the project he directs called Loon. Then he jumped into another car to race against the balloons’ flight path, speeding along an unpaved road, dodging chickens and pigs, and finally arriving at Agua Fria, a tiny community on the outskirts of the town Campo Maior. Cassidy pulled up to a rural schoolhouse that had never been able to receive high-quality Internet signals. (Locals sometimes climb trees to try to get a signal for their mobile phones.) The principal, who doubles as the lunchroom cook, ushered him into a classroom filled with middle-school-age kids. Within minutes, one of the balloons he’d launched that morning was overhead, enabling a teacher to get a high-speed connection on his computer. The instructor was able to supplement that day’s lesson about Portugal with Google maps and Wikipedia. Students asked off-the-wall questions—and got answers courtesy of Google. Later when Cassidy spoke to the kids, they shared their goals: One wanted to be an engineer; another, a doctor.

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