Google Project Loon trial hunts volunteers to test balloon internet

Google is hunting volunteers to test early Project Loon balloon-broadcast internet services, proposing mounting bulbous Loon antennas on participants' roofs. Limited to those in California's Central Valley, the research scheme would see the antennas stress-testing Project Loon's potential bandwidth as the high-altitude balloons pass overhead.

Although Google has billed Project Loon as potentially bringing internet connectivity to developing nations where getting online is currently near-impossible, the initial trials are taking place much closer to home. In fact, Google is only currently inviting applications for the research from those home-owners or business-owners in Madera, Chowchilla, Mariposa, Merced, or Turlock.

They'll also need an existing internet connection, since the purpose of the trial isn't to deliver web access but test its capacity. "Load testing involves putting demand on the system and then measuring its response" Google says, with each antenna exchanging high quantities of data with the balloons to see how they hold up.

Rather than run cable or DSL lines, or even use microwave antennas for wireless access, Google envisages stringing a series of balloons that would circumnavigate the globe in the stratospheric winds. Each would be able to beam down roughly 3G-speed data connectivity, the search giant suggested, though this limited trial would be a test of that capability.

However, not every observer has been quite so enthused by Project Loon. Bill Gates, former Microsoft CEO, argued earlier this month that internet connectivity "won't help" with the core issues facing developing nations; that is, low standards of healthcare and patchy access to clean water and medical supplies.