updated 04:15 pm EST, Wed February 20, 2008
Google Balloon Wireless
Google is investigating the possibility of using balloons to support future wireless networks, say sources in touch with the Wall Street Journal. The search engine firm is reportedly investigating either a partnership or an acquisition of balloon wireless firm Space Data to use its technology for extending a long-range cellular or wide-area Internet network. While specific implementations are not discussed, the current system floats balloons with transceivers into the upper atmosphere to increase their range; Space Data (and therefore Google) could spread a signal across thousands of square miles, extending coverage without having to install up to 40 cellular towers or repeaters.
The technique is most often used to spread cellphone coverage to rural areas or places where cell towers are often blocked by hills and other terrain limits. This could help Google not only expand its network quickly but also change the mechanics of rolling out service over a wide area, according to the claim. With balloons relatively inexpensive to use and maintain, service could be offered in fringe areas without raising the costs for some or all users.
These investigations by Google are believed to be tied to Google's 700MHz efforts, which have seen it join bidding in an FCC auction to ensure that it or other companies could launch long-range cellular and data networks. The Mountain View, California company has been purportedly testing its own wireless network, though whether this is to establish its own network or simply to test the viability of future 700MHz, Android-based phones is uncertain.
Both Google and Space Data have declined comment on the possibility of a deal or its significance.