Loon not loony

Google Loon aims to bring balloon-powered internet to everyone.

A loon is a fool but this idea is far from loony.

A trial was launched in Canterbury last week.

The scheme involved using balloons, flying at twice the altitude of commercial aircraft, which beam wireless broadband at 3G-level bandwidth (the sort of internet speed most people get from their cellphone).

Around 30 balloons have been launched as part of the trial. Collectively, they will offer broadband to a 10,000 square kilometre area.

Google spokeswoman Annie Baxter says 50 Christchurch homes have been given antennas that let them pick up a wireless broadband signal when one of the balloons is within 20kim.

Entrepreneur Charles Nimmo became the first to connect.

Ms Baxter says Google is working with the Crown-owned Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand (or Reannz) on broadband connectivity for the project. Reannz operates the high-speed $100 million Karen network used by universities and research institutes.

“Though we use similar frequencies as normal wi-fi, we have designed Loon to work using a specialized, non-standard radio protocol — that means our radios and antennas can only receive Loon signals and they filter out ground-based wi-fi. We have to do this to achieve high bandwidth over the long distances (20+ km) involved,” Ms Baxter tells NBR. . . .

This could well be a more effective and less expensive way for rural people to get reasonable internet connections.

Apropos of rural broadband, Telecommunications Users’ Association chief executive Paul Brislen says farmers should lay fibre cable themselves.

Mr Brislen told the Otago Daily Times this week there was no reason to wait for the big telecommunications companies to do the work.

”In some respects the telcos are the very last people you want to hire to deploy a network because they pack in so much cost.

”What you want to do is hire the guys with diggers and say: ‘If you dig me a trench I’ll just lay the fibre down’.”

Fibre-optic cable is needed to handle the high data rates of fast broadband and 4G (fourth generation) cellphone services.

Mr Brislen said a group of vineyard owners in the Nelson region had laid their own fibre optic 10 years ago and in Britain a low-cost scheme called B4RN taking fibre-optic to individual farms was ”going great guns”.

”These farmers are doing it for themselves. They got sick and tired of waiting for British Telecom to do it.” . . . 

Mr Brislen said the fibre-optic cable itself was ”really cheap”.

”It’s literally worthless because it’s just plastic.”

Mr Brislen said a cable run to farms or a community needed a ”tail-back” to one of dozens of ”points of presence” on the fibre network.

”So if you can reach one of those with your fibre, then build your own.

”As long as you have got consent to lay the thing, you are off and running.

”Farmers are much better at digging trenches than phone companies.”

Unless you’re on a main road or one that goes to a school it could be years before fibre gets to many rural properties, if it comes at all.

Laying the cable yourself or using the Loon could bring better broadband much sooner.

One Response to Loon not loony

  1. TraceyS says:

    ”Farmers are much better at digging trenches than phone companies.”

    Phone companies usually subcontract “guys with diggers” to do the work. Some of them might even be farmers. All are pretty handy at what they do – they have to be. This work is not as straightforward as made out in the article.


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