Google parent Alphabet Inc. shut down Loon, an audacious project to beam internet service from high-altitude balloons, after the unit failed to develop a viable business model.
“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,” Loon Chief Executive Officer Alastair Westgarth wrote Thursday in a blog post. “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.”
First unveiled to the public in 2013, Loon debuted as an effort to blanket the globe with internet connections using giant balloons drifting on currents high in the stratosphere. It was one of the most arresting ideas from Google’s “moonshot factory,” the plan from co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to upend entire industries and reinvent their search and advertising company.
Loon spent years flying its helium balloons around the planet and spending Google’s money. In 2018, it spun out of Google’s research lab into a separate Alphabet business, part of a strategy to make far-fetched units fend for themselves.
Loon pared back its initial ambitions — relying on fewer balloons and covering only select areas of the globe — and recruited several veterans from the satellite and wireless industry. It also partnered with several telecom companies, which had initially worried competition from the project.
In 2019, a division of SoftBank Corp. invested $125 million in Loon. Their stated plan was to use skycraft, rather than balloons, to provide connectivity in emerging markets and more remote areas where physical networks are scarce.