back to article Ericsson boss sticks a pin in Google’s loony Loon bubble

Google is wasting its time with its aptly named Project Loon and drones. So says Hans Vestberg, Ericsson’s CEO. Loon is a Google project to provide wireless internet coverage to remote areas of the world without web access – putting the cloud into clouds. It will fly helium balloons, with radio-linked base stations attached, …

  1. Mage Silver badge

    He's right.

    But even if Google DID have the spectrum it's a loony idea. Their arrogance seems to know no bounds, they should hire an RF engineer AND listen to him/her.

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Re: He's right.

      Yeah Google should hire an RF engineer. They'd be able to tell them that you can't fire radio signals from up in the air to down on the ground.

      Meanwhile I'll wait until Hans Vestberg tells me that Orange will start covering where I live. It's at almost 1000m above sea level, and Orange seems to have gravity problems; their coverage doesn't reach this high.

      Disclaimer - I currently live here because I'm working on a crazy project to build a ship that will travel to an altitude of 3x diamter of the planet to transmit radio signals down to here.

      1. BillG

        Re: He's right.

        Of course it won't work. But it doesn't matter. Just like Amazon and their drone delivery scheme, this is just a heavily-funded publicity stunt to impress the sheeple. It's about branding, making the public think nice, lofty thoughts about these companies.

    2. solo

      Re: He's right.

      Though I am scared of an ad company running controlling the internet access on a large scale, I don't see how it's bad if the loons (are sustainable) are allowed for only remote areas where even governments can't reach. Also, if the knowledge is shared, it could prove vital in disaster management.

      And it's not only about the cost, mind you, as you, Ericsson, are still unsure about 8% of the population (more than half a billion).

  2. Brian Miller

    Not a panacea

    Network access is not a panacea. Never has been, never will be. Yes, it can be good for some things. But it won't change the ox cart! If a third-world country's rural population is running at ox cart speed, no amount of network access is going to change that. The ox only moves just so fast.

    The Internet made a difference in the first world countries because we already had networks, we were moving at the speed of trains, planes, and automobiles, and we had been doing so for quite some time.

    1. Shaun Blagdon

      Re: Not a panacea

      Network can help develop rural economies, look at mobile banking in Africa, mobile healthcare systems etc.

      1. Charles Manning

        Re: Not a panacea

        "Network can help develop rural economies..." said by a person that' probably never been to a third world country and understands the obstacles.

        I've lived in some of the more remote areas of rural South Africa - which is many rungs up the ladder from other third world nations. My sister still runs health clinics there, paying for everything herself.

        Programs like providing tractors to help plough fields fail, because nobody can service tractors, fix stuff,... Within a year ot two all the tractors are buggered. Lots of money spent and the only accomplishment is a bunch of rich donors feeling good that they did "something".

        When you don't have even the basics like water covered, fancy stuff like twitter access is pretty low down on the list of useful tech.

        Where's the BOFHery going to come from? If you can afford to send them a BOFH etc, then it would make a lot more sense to send them a few rolls of PVC pipe instead so they can get water going.

        Really, really, basic stuff changes these people's lives, not fancy shiny stuff.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not a panacea

          "Programs like providing tractors to help plough fields fail, because nobody can service tractors, fix stuff"

          Well you just shot down your own argument.

          Programs like providing tractors to help plough fields fail, because nobody can service tractors, but now they can look up how to repair a broken prop shaft. Added to the fact they can now learn about better farming techniques and how to utilize what little resources they have, they can now have more food on the table. As there is now food on the table, the children can spend a little more time l, which thanks to some donated computers and an internet connection, they are able to gain access to better reading material. Now the children are better educated, they can bring more money into the family, helping out their now aging parents......

          Of course the "3rd world" countries such as India have never benefited by having fancy things like internet for twitter and pointless computers.

          1. divhide

            Re: Not a panacea

            @Lost all faith ... I suspect you mean well with your comment/reply as posted. But I'd also submit that you have little idea of just how wide a gulf exists between the rural communities referred to, and the optimistic "Hey, let's look up propshaft repair!" scenario which you paint. Live in the environment, and you will gain a far deeper understanding of the issues and genuine needs.

            Charles is absolutely correct. Without building the fundamentals, all the digital connectivity in the world is worth jack-squat. I have direct experience of the very communities to which Charles refers - being able to access Wikipedia is breathtakingly less important to them than having clean water. Or primary healthcare. The list goes on. Without the fundamentals in place, Interweb access is just fluff.

            Just my inflation-adjusted few cents' worth (or pence or whatever applies best!)

            1. Just Enough

              Re: Not a panacea

              How do you think the fundamentals are going to be built, if not through educating people to build them for themselves?

              There is no point to providing access to clean water, if you do not educate people how to best use it and how to keep it clean.

              There is no point to providing primary healthcare, if you do not educate nurses and doctors to staff it.

              There is no point to tractors, or the means to fix them, if you do not educate mechanics.

              Education is the long term solution to a million problems. Internet access is an excellent route to education.

            2. divhide

              Re: Not a panacea

              Sigh ... briefly adding to my comment (in partial response to a few responses suggesting that internet access somehow allows education to 'happen' ). Access to teh Interweb does NOT address the most essential/fundamental education which those in First World countries take for granted - how to read at a basic level, how to do basic arithmetic.

            3. divhide

              Re: Not a panacea

              Damn ... old age ... forgot one last bit: Slapping down some Interweb access in front of some illiterate Third World kids is no substitute for education in the very old-fashioned sense. You still need teachers on the ground, doing the grunt-work of getting the basics in place. Along with the PVC piping for water (ok, simplified a little too much!), and some primary healthcare.

              THEN, and only then, can we start getting all excited about teh Interweb ...

              Seriously, if you can't read at an adequate level ... in a language which is frequently NOT your mother tongue ... *wanders off to beat head on wall*

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Not a panacea

      Its not the ox carts - its the bloody natives finding world prices for their products that's the problem - if they find out that all the palm oil we want them to produce so our soap doesnt work as soap anymore is actually worth less than the nuts that grow naturally in the region then we're fucked.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They want equal access for the worlds population to have their information sucked by the NSA.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      There's no mention of Microsoft anywhere in that article.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well Ericsson would say that, wouldn't they

    Not that I entirely disagree. I'm just saying. Loon, or something like it, may be useful for any remote area with a low population density; the kind of area where building out a physical network may not make sense. Satellite internet remains slow and expensive. I think the real problem with Loon is not going to be providing coverage, but might actually getting people to use it. Surely their must be places where people have no interest in the internet*?

    * No, not Africa, where everyone, down the family living in the last mud hut, craves it.

  5. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    What precisely is the Google plan for dealing with the wind where their balloons are? Blimps are fun, by I doubt many of them can do the 100kt+ which would be required to maintain station in many places.

    1. ratfox

      They're not fighting the wind

      The balloons are always moving where the wind pushes them. And a next one takes their place. I think their numbers were that about 20'000 balloons could cover the whole world, and then it does not matter if they are moving about.

      1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

        Re: They're not fighting the wind @ratfox

        Yup, that's right. They are sort of trying to do an Iridium on the cheap (launching satellites is still bloody expensive). However they are running into the same problems; each country wants to regulate the airwaves within their borders. They'll have to negotiate with every country they overfly for bandwidth (or re-sell their broadcast capability to current license holders in each country).

        I don't know how succesfully the loons could change their altitude to take advantage of winds in different directions to stay in a rough location.

        I wonder if Hans Vestberg is just suffering from sour grapes from not being able to sell his companies kit to go on the loons?

  6. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Power problems?

    I can see where re-charging a mobe in some areas would be a real issue... pump water? or charge the mobe to see the cats? I sometimes have wonder about some tech people.

    1. tony2heads

      Re: Power problems?

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Power problems?

      Next you'll be telling me there are clockwork radios or plans for low cost solar panels for just such areas.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    CEO? Figures

    Mr. Vestberg, why don't you go and talk to a field-engineer about what's going to happen to your precious terrestrial base-stations days, if not hours, after the field crew moves on. Unless you happen to have an armed platoon guarding it, well don't be surprised when it's been sold/traded as scrap. At least with Loon, you don't have that worry. Frankly, were I in the locals shoes, I'd do the same.

    As for frequencies/bandwidth, well that's where Software-Defined Radio fits in. Then it's a matter of the Loon knowing it's coordinates to use set frequencies. Heck, add directionality to the mix (I would) and that mitigates bleed-over where you have antagonistic nations involved. In any case, we've tolerated each nation going their own way on how spectrum is allocated. When will it be time to have some type of common allocations. ITU? Might be your balliwick.

    The rest, is pretty dirt simple. What isn't is what materials are going to be used especially for a smart-skin (solar energy), storage cells (I'd use super-capacitors), yada yada. Nice try at FUD, but if I can figure this out, don'tcha think the real engineers over at Google haven't already got this in the pipeline.

    One final thought. Loon would be awfully useful in instrumenting the planet. All that weather/climate stuff.

    1. phil dude

      Re: CEO? Figures

      a nice post, and I thought the same. Anything that has exposed copper on the ground is a problem.

      Even in London, in case we forget...


  8. Slx

    Wouldn't 20,000+ balloons carrying chunky radio gear be an extremely serious hazard to aviation??

    1. desht

      No, because the balloons are planned to drift at an altitude of >18km, way above the maximum altitude for commercial airliners (~12 km).

      1. Slx

        Until one of them ends up at the wrong altitude and gets sucked into an engine...

        Aviation regulators are VERY conservative for a good reason.

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      I've got a feeling its going to piss off a few astronomers - and lohan will have to watch its peesandqueues.

  9. naive

    Google changes the world for the better, and the others do not

    Imagine a world, where google would for free provide a wifi like signal, allowing calls and internet using a sophisticated setup of balloons, and devices powered by solar energy.

    No more telecoms, no more spying governments, even in countries with the most oppressive regimes people would have uncensored access to information. Changing mobile devices so they can pickup an extra google frequency does not seem to be such a game changer.

    Google shows it has the power to change the world, without being constrained by a political agenda, that is why the politicians pick on them. And the likes of Ericsson should better be silent, even today internet access in rural areas in most west European countries is facing bandwidth limitations. If they can, why did they not do it 10 years ago ?.

  10. thomas k.

    "cats fighting printers"

    OMG! There's so much more to the internet than that!

    There's kittens in adorable costumes, there's cats sleeping in funny positions and, my new personal favo(u)rite,

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