Deflating Rumors Of Google Offering Broadband-By-Balloon

from the head-in-the-clouds dept

Say what you want about the Wall Street Journal, but they're generally pretty reliable on fact checking and not reporting baseless rumors. That's why it's strange to see a report in the Journal about Google's supposed interest in buying up a balloon-based wireless data company. For many years, we've seen all different reports about attempts to offer wireless data services using various types of floating devices. Sometimes it's via blimps, sometimes it's via other systems using bizarre names like "HAPs" (for "high altitude platforms"), or "stratellite" or "aerostats". Then there's my favorite such plan: broadband delivered via retired Soviet spy planes. All of these plans had slight differences in terms of how they worked -- but one similarity: they were basically all full of hot air.

While they tend to generate plenty of attention, they tend not to be particularly practical. The stratellite folks have been particularly egregious in issuing press releases that gullible reporters fall for every six months or so. The WSJ story about these balloons seems even more ridiculous in terms of practicality: the balloons only stay afloat for 24-hours, before they burst and the transmitter floats to the ground, where it needs to be recovered and then relaunched. Seriously. Yet, the WSJ says that Google may be interested in buying this company, offering nothing to back that up other than "people familiar with the matter." This reads like a story placed by the company itself trying to drum up interest. I don't doubt that folks from Google may have met with the company, but it seems like a stretch to think that they're seriously interested in sending up balloons with data transmitters every 24-hours. Then again, who would have thought they'd send around people in cars taking photos of everything. It just seems that Google's interest should have a bit more evidence behind it before taking it seriously.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    That Guy, Feb 20th, 2008 @ 1:53pm

    niche uses

    Well mainstream uses seem pretty limited, but I could see a niche. Something like that could be used for outdoor festivals, emergency use ( say perhaps setting up a network after an earthquake ) or perhaps even for military usage.

    Really, whats a few 10's of millions of dollars to google anyways.

     

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  2.  
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    4-80-sicks, Feb 20th, 2008 @ 1:55pm

    Thing is, the results of sending people around in cars to take pictures of stuff are awesome! The results that I as a user see from balloon broadband? No different, or worse, than the alternative.

     

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  3.  
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    WarOtter (profile), Feb 20th, 2008 @ 1:59pm

    A modest proposal

    I think it's time to begin construction of the SkyNet Orbital platform. I, for one, welcome our robot overlords.

     

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  4.  
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    Philip g (profile), Feb 20th, 2008 @ 2:36pm

    How about with Wind Turbines?

    Maybe they don't mean balloons but something like this:
    http://www.symscape.com/blog/flying-wind-turbines-blog-action-day

    I can very much see Google looking into that. Heck, even I thought about that. ^_^

    However, there are some practicality hurdles and it's very weather centric.

     

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  5.  
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    Philip g (profile), Feb 20th, 2008 @ 2:41pm

    How about with Wind Turbines?

    Maybe they don't mean balloons but something like this:
    http://www.symscape.com/blog/flying-wind-turbines-blog-action-day

    I can very much see Google looking into that. Heck, even I thought about that. ^_^

    However, there are some practicality hurdles and it's very weather centric.

     

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  6.  
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    Philip (profile), Feb 20th, 2008 @ 2:43pm

    Re: How about with Wind Turbines?

    Ha, maybe I should have just linked to the homepage: http://www.magenn.com/

    (ps: Sorry for the dble post! The ajax reply to comment box confused me when the submit button didn't show up)

     

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  7.  
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    Bob, Feb 20th, 2008 @ 2:56pm

    Interesting

    The story reads almost like "too weird to be wrong". Surely the reporter, Amol Sharma, saw the ridiculousness of a dairy farmer being paid $50 per launch from her barn, or the fact that hobbyists with gps receivers hunted down the fallen tram sitters for $100.

    What I am saying is this must all be true or that reporter is really, really, really (one more) really gullible. It had to seems ridiculous, so the reporter triple checked everything. Right?

     

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  8.  
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    Bob, Feb 20th, 2008 @ 2:57pm

    nice spell checker I have there

    tram sitters should of course be transmitters

     

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  9.  
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    David Hammond (profile), Feb 20th, 2008 @ 3:45pm

    Think outside the box

    I don't know much about this company, but maybe there's some infrastructure it has that Google is interested in experimenting with for other uses. Maybe Google wants to try putting cameras on balloons and getting more frequent updates to the satellite photo imagery in certain areas. Google has made many purchases in which it abandoned the company's original product but made other use of its infrastructure.

     

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  10.  
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    Jenn, Feb 20th, 2008 @ 3:48pm

    Maybe this is just the precursor to another excellent April Fools Day charade (remember last year's Google TiSP, free broadband via your toilet).

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2008 @ 4:07pm

    Hmmm

    And what are they going to do if people get their hands on said data transmitters? Unless they are planning on putting these on some form of wire to keep them in a pretty small area there is gonna be some problems. If people get a hold of them then I am sure they will have to pry these devices from the persons hands or what happens if they land in a lake or something like that and are destroyed. I would love to see one of these fall in the middle of the highway and cause some form of accident.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2008 @ 4:13pm

    Or perhaps the company owns some potentially valuable patents?

     

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  13.  
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    Java, Feb 20th, 2008 @ 4:41pm

    The company doing this

     

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  14.  
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    Matthew Flaschen, Feb 21st, 2008 @ 6:41am

    May be feasible

    If it really only costs $200 per launch ($50 for balloon, $50 to pay farmer, $100 to recover), plus some fraction of $1,500 for occasional lost or damaged transceivers, it could be feasible. That's certainly more than they can earn per day in the area of 40 cell phone towers. It certainly sounds ridiculous, but lots of things do these days.

     

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