15 Jun 2013

Balloons above Canterbury to beam down wireless internet

8:20 pm on 15 June 2013

The internet giant Google is trialling a project in Canterbury that involves wireless internet being beamed down from large balloons 20km above the Earth.

Google launched the trial with about 30 helium-filled balloons above Christchurch, carrying antennae linked to ground base stations.

The balloons are carried high into the atmosphere by the wind where they will beam internet access to 50 homes throughout Canterbury.

Ground stations connected to local internet providers send wireless signals to the balloons which then send it back to those with special receivers. The balloons can supply anyone within a 20km radius.

Prime Minister John Key was present at Project Loon's launch in Christchurch on Saturday afternoon.

The pilot study has been secretly in development for the past two years.

Google forsees the technology providing internet access during disasters such as the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, where the destruction of communications caused huge problems for rescuers.

Google's director of engineering, Craig Neville-Manning, hopes that eventually a ring of balloons circling the globe will provide internet access to the two-thirds of the planet that doesn't have it.