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Expedition Internet Everywhere - Report on Google Loon Project


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October 2, 2013
BUS 237 - Management in Information Systems
A report discussing Google's Loon project.

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Expedition Internet Everywhere - Report on Google Loon Project

  1. 1.           Simon  Fraser  University  Course  BUS  237   Expedition  Internet   Everywhere   An  Analysis  of  Google  X’s  Project  Loon   Tink  Newman   9/30/2013   301116260   TA:  Mark  Yip  
  2. 2. Expedition  Internet  Everywhere   By  Tink  Newman   September  29,  2013   In  today’s  knowledge  economy,  only  2.7  billion  people  out  of  7.2  billion  people  (Worldometers,   2013)   have   access   to   the   internet   which   is   approximately   one   third   of   the   world’s   population.   The   internet  provides  people  with  a  way  to  grow  their  knowledge  and  have  access  to  friends,  family  and   communities.   According   to   Mark   Zuckerberg,   CEO   and   Founder   of   the   social   networking   site,   Facebook;   the   internet   “has   also   accounted   for   21%   of   GDP   [gross   domestic   product]   growth   in   developed   countries   in   the   past   5   years,   increasing   rapidly   from   just   10%   over   the   past   15   years.”   (Zuckerberg,   2013)   The   lack   of   internet   provides   a   huge   barrier   to   developing   countries   joining   the   knowledge   economy.   One   company,   the   most   prominent   leader   in   internet   technology,   Google,   is   tackling   this   problem   by   trying   to   fix   the   “world’s   broadband   problem.”   (Levy,   2013)   Google   Loon   is   working  towards  their  goal  of  bringing  internet  to  the  world  through  designing  their  balloon  service,   using  a  step  by  step  decision  making  process,  and  undergoing  business  transformation.   Google’s  quest  is  to  design  a  low-­‐cost  internet  service  broadcast  to  the  world  to  get  more  users   online.   Project   Loon   is   the   classified   project   of   Google   X,   a   research   lab   founded   in   2010,   devoted   to   new   projects.     “Project   Loon   is   a   network   of   balloons   traveling   on   the   edge   of   space,   designed   to   connect  people  in  rural  and  remote  areas,  help  fill  coverage  gaps,  and  bring  people  back  online  after   disasters.“   (Google,   2013)   They   want   to   make   all   of   the   world’s   information   accessible   to   all   the   world’s  people.  Google’s  primary  activity  is  it’s  ability  to  generate  revenue  from  the  pay  per  click  ads   from  the  future  billions  of  new  users.  The  core  idea  and  supporting  activity  of  the  business  is  to  have   weather   balloons   circle   the   globe,   directionally   controlled   by   catching   wind   currents   and   altering   altitude.   The   goal   is   to   broadcast   wifi,   powered   by   solar   panels.   The   first   prototype   was   tested   in   August   2011,   using   a   Linux   computer   with   a   wifi   radio   pointing   downwards.   The   first   fleet   of   balloons   and   their   tests   were   called   “Icarus   tests”   (Levy,   2013)   were   hosted   at   the   San   Luis   Reservoir   in   California’s  Central  Valley.  Four  latex  balloons  were  bought  online,  costing  $100  each,  and  were  filled   with   helium   purchased   from   a   welding   supplier.     Each   balloon   successfully   communicated   with   receivers  on  the  ground  via  a  small  wi-­‐fi  transmitter  and  moved  quickly  in  the  air.  “People  connect  to   the   balloon   network   using   a   special   Internet   antenna   located   on   their   building.   The   signal   bounces   from   balloon   to   balloon,   then   to   the   global   Internet   back   on   Earth.”   (Google,   2013)   This   project   is   increasing   Google’s   effectiveness   by   not   only,   offering   the   world’s   leading   search   engine,   but   also   an   improved  expansion  of  the  wireless  internet.     The   team   used   a   6   step   decision   making   process   beginning   with   1.   intelligence   gathering,   2.   alternatives  formulation,  3.  choice,  4.  implementation,  5.  review  and  6.  process  awareness.  The  focus  of   this  article  was  on  intelligence  gathering.  Firstly,  Google  X  gathered  information  from  their  past  pilot   projects   that   included   their   “own   high-­‐speed   networks   in   cities   like   Kansas   City;   Missouri,   Austin;   Texas  and  Provo;  Utah”  along  with  “lobbying  to  allocate  unused  slices  of  the  television  spectrum  called   white  spaces,  for  internet  access.”  (Levy,  2013)  They  learned  that  their  own  high  speed  networks  and   white   spaces   were   too   expensive   or   logistically   daunting   for   the   parts   of   the   world   that   were   still   unconnected   by   the   internet.   An   essential   part   of   Google   X’s   intelligence   gathering   is   to   crunch   “the   voluminous  data  about  wind  currents,  past  and  present,  available  from  the  US  government’s  National   Oceanic   and   Atmospheric   Administration”.   They   are   matching   the   data   with   meteorological   skill,   simulation   and   computation   to   analyze   the   information.   Google   learned   from   lessons   of   Lockheed   Martin,   an   American   global   aerospace,   defense,   security,   and   advanced   technology   company   with   worldwide   interests.   Lockheed   tried   to   get   around   the   problem   of   winds   with   a   giant   solar-­‐powered     1  of  3  
  3. 3. dirigible,  a  “lighter-­‐than-­‐air  craft  that  is  both  powered  and  steerable  (as  opposed  to  free  floating,  like  a   balloon)”.  (,   2013)   Lockheed’s   prototype’s   voyage   failed   to   reach   altitude   and   they   discontinued  any  plans  to  further  continue  the  project.  Google  X  looked  at  the  Lockheed  criteria,  and   US   government   data,   and   surmised   the   need   to   steer   the   balloons   while   taking   advantage   of   wind   currents.   Secondly,   this   research   lead   Google   X   to   analyze   past   alternatives   and   thirdly,   chose   an   experimental   plan   to   steer   balloons   while   taking   advantage   of   wind   currents.   They   are   choosing   to   bring  internet  to  the  world  via  wireless  internet,  versus  through  cell  phone  networks  and  data,  which   Facebook  is  attempting  to  do.  (Zuckerberg,  2013)  Fourthly,  they  are  able  to  complete  implementation   of   experiments   successfully,   leading   them   to   fifthly,   review   their   data,   perform   a   2nd   iteration   and   then   have   public   unveilings   such   as   the   first   one   in   Christchurch,   New   Zealand.   Sixthly,   Google   is   using   process  awareness  to  see  their  project  in  terms  of  the  bigger  picture.  At  the  public  unveiling,  Project   Loon   was   serving   approximately   50   local   families   with   internet,   but   Google   X   continually   asks   themselves,  “could  this  number  expand  to  50,000?  50  million?  Billions?”  Google  X  believes  this  version   1.0   project   has   future   value   in   making   the   internet   better,   cheaper   and   safer,   beyond   the   scope   of   computing  and  ballooning.      Google   X   is   one   of   the   few   companies   in   the   world   that   is   spending   millions   of   dollars   on   Internet   Ballooning.   Such   an   expensive,   space-­‐bound   project   is   a   business   process   transformation   at   the   highest   level   of   intensity,   however;   their   success   hinges   on   the   age-­‐old,   still   elusive   mastery   of   ballooning.   Such   business   activities   create   radical   changes   to   the   industry   and   “Project   Loon   [currently]  has  the  official  status  of  a  Google  “moon  shot,”  a  high-­‐risk,  high-­‐reward  Hail  Mary  effort.”   (Levy,   2013)   Google   has   the   competitive   advantage   of   creating   standards   for   wireless   internet,   developing   the   market   size   and   decreasing   the   price   of   wireless.   They   are   increasing   their   profitability   because   they’re   making   it   easier   for   people   to   connect   and   interact   with   ads.   Google   X   displays   a   sustained   competitive   advantage   specifically   regarding   expanding   the   internet   which   is   an   existing   service.   Their   project   is   taking   significant   time   and   resources   for   their   people   to   gain   necessary   experience   and   skill,   therefore;   it   is   difficult   for   new   entrants   to   enter   the   market.   Google,   a   transformative   “company   known   for   its   algorithms,   has   to   mindmeld   with   the   world   of   Jules   Verne”   (Levy,  2013)  to  complete  the  project.   In   conclusion,   Google   X   is   designing   and   testing   prototypes   of   Internet   Ballooning   and   broadcasting  wif-­‐i  which  it  hopes  to  scale  in  the  future  to  serve  billions  of  people  in  the  world.  Their   team  uses  a  6  step  decision  making  process  including  intelligence  gathering,  alternatives  formulation,   choice,   implementation,   review   and   process   awareness.   Specifically,   their   analysis   of   alternatives   includes  learning  lessons  from  past  pilot  projects  and  Lockheed  Martin’s  dirigible.  The  Google  X  team   identifies   Project   Loon   as   a   high   risk,   high   reward   project   and   is   embracing   the   concept   of   business   transformation   to   support   their   innovation.   Google   has   leading   position   in   the   world’s   technology,   and   their  chance  of  success  is  high  because  they  have  a  competitive  advantage.  It  would  be  hard  for  new   entrants  to  enter  the  worldwide  wireless  internet  market.  Google’s  goal  is  to  have  internet  everywhere.           2  of  3  
  4. 4. Bibliography  (2013,  July  8).  Dirigibles,  Zeppelins,  and  Blimps:  The  Differences  Explained.   Retrieved  September  29,  2013,  from  Airships:  The  Hidenburg  and  Other  Zepplins:   Google.  (2013).  Google.  Retrieved  September  29,  2013,  from  Project  Loon:   Levy,  S.  (2013,  August  13).  The  Untold  Story  of  Google's  Quest  to  Bring  the  Internet  Everywhere   -­‐  By  Balloon.  Retrieved  September  29,  2013,  from  Wired:­‐project-­‐loon/     Worldometers.  (2013,  September  29).  Population  Growth.  Retrieved  from  Worldometers:­‐population/   Zuckerberg,  M.  (2013,  August  21).  Is  Connectivity  A  Human  Right?  Retrieved  September  29,   2013,  from  Facebook:                 3  of  3