Alphabet Shuts Down Loon, Its Moonshot Internet Balloon Company

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Loon
Loon takes off from autolauncher

Loon, one of Alphabet’s ventures to provide high speed internet is shutting down.

Loon was one bet among Alpahabet’s other bets and will now be shutting down. The project launched in 2013 and graduated from X in 2018 and had its own CEO and outside funding.

In Kenya, Loon in partnered with Telkom Kenya to connect the third most popular network to its subscribers in Rift Valley and Central Kenya.


Citing lack of “long-term, sustainable business”, Astro Teller, X Chief recommended that Alphabet no longer fund it.

“The road to commercial viability has proven much longer and riskier than hoped. In the coming months, we’ll begin winding down operations and it will no longer be an Other Bet within Alphabet,” said Astro Teller.

We talk a lot about connecting the next billion users, but the reality is Loon has been chasing the hardest problem of all in connectivity — the last billion users: The communities in areas too difficult or remote to reach, or the areas where delivering service with existing technologies is just too expensive for everyday people. 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. 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.

In the blog post, the company adds that Project Loon was a successful experiment.

What Happens Next

In a statement shared on Twitter, Loon says that they will continue their pilot service in Kenya until March 1 and that they’ll work closely with their partners to ensure operations are wrapped up safely and smoothly.

Loon is also committing to a fund of $10M is being pledged to support nonprofits and businesses focused on connectivity, internet, entrepreneurship and education in Kenya.

UPDATE:

“Telkom believes in taking bold decisions. It was very exciting therefore, to partner with like-minded pioneers in the adoption and usage of innovative technologies such as Loon, with the aim of filling in the Internet access gaps in areas that were difficult to service. Their vision – to connect unconnected and under-connected communities by inventing and integrating audacious technologies – sat well with our mission, to provide the best value for a simpler life, efficient business and stronger communities,” said Telkom Kenya CEO, Mr Mugo Kibati.

“Telkom remains cognisant of the integral role our core terrestrial network plays in keeping our customers connected. We continue with our long-term terrestrial network expansion plan, that is informed by our overall company strategy, which will see us scale up to 80% of our network to 4G, increase our network footprint across the country, and get more Kenyans online,” he continued in a statement posted on the company’s website.

Astro is also working to place Loon’s employees to other roles at Alphabet, Google, and X.

Alphabet is planning on using some of Loon’s technology including the the high bandwidth (20Gbps+) optical communication links on its other projects such as Project Taara.


TechCrunch reports that the Project Taara team is currently working with partners in Sub-Saharan Africa to bring affordable, high-speed internet to unconnected and under-connected communities starting in Kenya.

Updated with a statement from Telkom Kenya CEO, Mr Mugo Kibati.


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