Alphabet shelves internet balloon project; Doesn't consider it a failure
Loon was a project under X, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., dedicated to exploring possibilities deemed too risky or unviable. The project became a separate company in 2018. Loon had intended to bring high-speed mobile internet access to the remotest parts of the world using balloons in the upper atmosphere. The project is now being shelved as a sustainable business model couldn't be developed.
Loon helped supplement cellular networks after natural calamities
Loon has been in development since 2013 and split into a separate company in 2018 as a part of the Other Bets unit. It provided Peruvians emergency internet access following an earthquake, while also delivering cellular connection to hurricane affected Puerto Ricans. The company also successfully connected Kenyans to the internet in a pilot project last year.
Loon grounded for lack of financial viability, among other reasons
In the last decade, internet availability in the world has gone up from 75 percent to 93 percent. This has solved the problem Loon project had set out to tackle. Those still not connected have almost no content online in their local language. Hence, Alphabet doesn't see a way to monetize the project in the long term in a sustainable and meaningful manner.
Loon gave rise to other X projects in its wake
During its development, Loon helped advance many technologies such as data transmission using light, which is now its own X project called Taara. Loon also used the US government's weather data coupled with technological advancements to help its balloons ride wind currents longer. Its engineers documented use of deep learning so the balloons autonomously formed networks that thrived in challenging environments.
CEO Alastair Westgarth on why Loon didn't work out
"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," Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth quipped.
Loon lives up to its name
Notably, the company head Astro Teller recommended Alphabet to pull Loon funding. Teller refuses to call Loon a failure. He says he pulled the plug on the project for obvious reasons, despite Alphabet's significant investment. "We can't access exceptional opportunities unless we're willing to be wrong a decent amount of the time," said Teller. He rated Loon an arbitrary "eight out of ten".