A year after Project Loon became public, its leaders told Wired that Google should be able to provide LTE data connections "in one or several countries" within the next year.
The company hopes to grow a fleet of 300 to 400 balloons that can continuously circle the earth at an altitude twice as high as commercial planes, and stay up for 100 or more days. Already, the balloons have traveled more than a million and a half kilometers, and circled the world in as little as 22 days, which is a world record.
And they are delivering Internet speeds of 22 megabits per second to ground antennae and 5 MB per second to phones.
While Loon service is aimed at poor, rural areas, it may well pay for itself by doubling as a sort of super-roaming plan for wealthier users, Google X head Astro Teller told Wired. Google is planning to partner with local ISPs to connect the balloons to the Internet, and has already done so for tests in Brazil.
"We've definitely crossed the point where there's a greater than 50 percent chance that this will happen," Loon project head Mike Cassidy told Wired.