Google first announced its plans to launch superpressure balloons into the stratosphere to "blanket" huge areas with internet access back in June 2013, and now they believe that they are on course to have enough internet-beaming balloons in the stratosphere to form a ring over part of the world next year. The balloons are inflated with helium, and they contain two radio transceivers that receive and send data (with a third back-up radio), a flight computer,a GPS location tracker, an altitude control system, and solar panels. They can now supply 10 megabits/second to connected devices via antennae on the ground. Using an automated crane, balloons will be launched in 15 minute intervals and they can stay afloat for as long as 187 days.
Google estimates it needs about 300 balloons to make a continuous string around the world, and they hope to have their first continuous string sometime next year. If it is a success, the company will launch its first set of beta commercial customers. Because each balloon only provides connectivity to a ground area of 40 km. in diameter, the initial ring "will be limited to a relatively small part of the planet in the Southern Hemisphere."
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