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Google: balloons will provide WiFi to the world

Sunday - 3/9/2014, 3:44am  ET

google_balloon_640 (AP)
In this June 10, 2013 photo, a Google balloon sails through the air over New Zealand. Google is testing the balloons which sail in the stratosphere and beam the Internet to Earth. (AP)

WASHINGTON --It sounds like something out of science fiction, or even The Wizard of Oz, but Google hopes a new balloon will soon bring Internet to developing countries for the first time.

Google describes Project Loon as "loon for all," and "a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill coverage gaps, and bring people back online after disasters."

This solar-powered balloon network will float in the stratosphere (20 kilometers above the earth), twice as high as airplanes and the weather, Google explains. Special antenna on the top of buildings will be able to send and receive signals to the balloon network above. The balloons then transmit signals back and forth from Internet providers on the ground and then back again -- a network in the sky.

Designers say five to six billion people in the world still cannot connect to the Internet.

Project Loon has already begun a pilot test -- launching 30 balloons into the sky from New Zealand and providing a Net signal to a group of testers in June 2013.

"There are ways to can track them and see them in real time, they're going 25 miles an hour," says Brett Larsen of TechBytes.com, who spoke to WTOP about the pilot. Tracking the Loons are easy, just click on the service set up by Frightradar24.

Not everyone is sold on the idea. Last August, in an interview with Business Week, Microsoft founder Bill Gates said the developing world has a lot more to worry about than getting access to WiFi.

"When you're dying of malaria, I suppose you'll look up and see that balloon, and I'm not sure how it'll help you. When a kid gets Diarrhea, no, there's no website that relieves that."

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