Alphabet Puts Project Loon Balloon Tech in ‘Boxes’ to Bring Light Beam Internet to India

Image: Alphabet
Image: Alphabet

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 proved it’s possible to reliably send data wirelessly between balloons floating thousands of feet in the sky. Emboldened by the results, Alphabet’s Team X then looked for other areas where it could apply the tech behind Project Loon. So now, the team’s next move will be to put FSOC equipment in boxes that will be mounted all over the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

You can think of FSOC as functioning similarly to fiberoptic 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. I just wish officials back here in the US had thought about that before today’s net neutrality hearing.

The headline of this post has been updated. It originally read Alphabet Swaps Project Loon Balloons for ‘Boxes’ to Bring Light Beam Internet to India. Alphabet wrote us to clarify that the balloons are not being “swapped,” and that Team X’s partnership with AP State FiberNet is a distinct initiative. Alphabet also clarified that the Project Loon balloon program will continue. We regret the error.


Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.

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How is this different from using line-of-sight microwave transmission which they have been doing for years?