Close to one year after rolling out in Kenya, Alphabet is winding up Project Loon. The tech giant confirmed on Thursday that it was done exploring the idea of using balloons to provide internet to remote areas.
The company said that the nine year old project had failed to find partners and a sustainable business model.
Project loon was inaugurated in April by President Uhuru Kenyatta following a partnership between Google and Telkom to provide internet to Kenya’s remote areas.
Loon’s mission, stated on the website, says “Loon is focused on bringing connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world. We are in discussions with telecommunications companies and governments worldwide to provide a solution to help extend internet connectivity to these underserved areas.”
Alasatair Westgarth, Chief Executive of Loon, detailed some of the present challenges in a blogpost.
“We talk a lot about connecting the next billion users, but the reality is Loon has been chasing the hardest problem of all in connectivity — the last billion users,” he wrote.
“The communities in areas too difficult or remote to reach, or the areas where delivering service with existing technologies is just too expensive for everyday people. While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business. Developing radical new technology is inherently risky, but that doesn’t make breaking this news any easier.”
Westgarth said that overall, Loon’s connectivity efforts had been successful.
“The Loon team is proud to have catalyzed an ecosystem of organizations working on providing connectivity from the stratosphere. The world needs a layered approach to connectivity — terrestrial, stratospheric, and space-based — because each layer is suited to different parts of the problem. In this area, Loon has made a number of important technical contributions,” wrote Westgarth.
Alphabet has now pledged a $10 million fund to support nonprofits and businesses focused on internet, entrepreneurship and education in Kenya.
The company also plans to take what it has learnt from the project, and share it with others.
“Some of Loon’s technology — like the high bandwidth (20Gbps+) optical communication links that were first used to beam a connection between balloons bopping in the stratosphere — already lives on in Project Taara. This team is currently working with partners in Sub-Saharan Africa to bring affordable, high-speed internet to unconnected and under-connected communities starting in Kenya,” the firm said.