Web Exclusive: Google testing internet balloons

Web Exclusive

(CNN) - A science-fiction-style project -- which could bring internet access to five billion people across the planet -- is being tested out in New Zealand.

Software giant Google is launching balloons into the stratosphere -- equipped with wireless technology that could create a truly global network.

It is Google's vision for the future of the internet, a worldwide network of balloons launched into the stratosphere 20 kilometers up, beaming internet access to the entire globe.

"There's a huge problem in the world today, two thirds of the people on the planet don't have Internet access," says Mike Cassidy, Project Director.

Dubbed "Project Loon," the balloons offer wireless connectivity at current 3G speeds or better to anyone on the ground within a 40 kilometer radius.

"There's still 34 thousand New Zealand homes that cannot access the Internet and so when you look at Project Loon and you think about what that's just doing in New Zealand, a place where we think we're pretty forward leaning on the Internet, imagine what that's gonna do around the world," says John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Testing for the pie-in-the-sky technology is happening here, with two dozen balloons launched this week near Tekapo.

The balloons beam signals to and from ground stations which connect to local internet infrastructure.  Leeston man, Charles Nimmo, was the first to test the technology.

"We got Google homepage then I checked the weather and then I started, watched a video, so gives you an idea of how it went," says Charles Nimmo, Leeston Entrepreneur.

Thousands of balloons will move in constant circulation around the planet, high above airplanes and weather patterns, ensuring there will always be one above your home or business.  The network could prove vital during natural disasters.

"When things on the ground get knocked out, communication gets knocked out, the balloons can easily reach the ground and provide communication which is one of the biggest problems that happens after a natural disaster," says Max Bania from Christchurch, New Zealand.

And while the project is years away from completion, it has the potential to bring five billion people online.


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