One of X’s more well-known projects used balloons to deliver internet service to areas that lack existing network infrastructure. Alphabet announced today that it was shutting down Loon given difficulties commercializing the effort.
The program was officially announced in 2013 as part of Google X. It followed the Moonshot Factory to Alphabet before graduating in July of 2018. Since then, Loon has partnered with a handful of carriers around the world, and proved itself quite useful at delivering emergency internet access following natural disasters.
As first reported in Wired, Alphabet had decided to no longer invest in Loon. An official blog post says the underlying issue is not being able to “get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business.”
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: 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. Today, I’m sad to share that Loon will be winding down.
X chief Astro Teller, who chairs the Loon board, “recommended that Alphabet no longer fund it.” As the leader of all moonshots, Teller called the balloons a “successful experiment” that they decided to end once it proved that a business wouldn’t be viable.
Since 2019, Loon has been operating a pilot service in Kenya. That will end on March 1 as it works to bring down the balloons that are still operating.
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