Alphabet Swaps Project Loon Balloons for ‘Boxes’ to Bring Light Beam Internet to India

By Sam Rutherford on at

One of Alphabet’s crazier attempts to bring the internet to more rural and isolated areas was Project Loon. Using what is called Free Space Optical Communication (FSOC), Alphabet has sought to prove it’s possible to reliably send data wirelessly between balloons floating thousands of feet in the sky. However, the task of keeping balloons aloft indefinitely is tricky business, so for its next venture, Alphabet’s X team is taking the tech behind Project Loon and putting it in FSOC boxes that will be mounted all over the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

You can think of FSOC as functioning similarly to fibreoptic cable, using beams of light to carry information over huge distances in the blink of an eye. The big difference with FSOC though, is that there is no actual cable, which means there’s no need to dig tunnels or stretch wires across rivers or mountains. Instead, the Google parent company says small FSOC boxes will be installed on elevated structures like poles or roofs and rely on direct line-of-sight in order to transmit data up to 12 miles in a single hop.

In India, Alphabet is partnering with telecom company AP State FiberNet to install around 2,000 FSOC boxes across the region. FiberNet’s goal is to help bring broadband connectivity to 12 million households by 2019, and these boxes could give FiberNet a cost-effective alternative to traditional cell towers and Wi-Fi hotspots, while also expanding existing broadband coverage to areas where traditional tech can’t reach.

If all this sounds a bit nuts, that’s because it is. And we’re still not sure what’s stopping a nearby bird from perching in the wrong place and making everyone’s internet lag. But bringing broadband to more people is a good thing. [Reuters]

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