Google weighed buying spectrum for Project Loon, but opted to rent its balloons to carriers instead

Google(s goog) considered turning Project Loon into the world’s biggest mobile operator, buying spectrum around the globe, Google’s Astro Teller said at TechCrunch Disrupt on Tuesday. The idea was that Google would use a harmonized band to transmit its signals from its stratospheric balloon network down to terra firma.

But Larry Page nixed that idea, said Teller, whose official title at Google is Captain of Moonshots. Instead, Teller’s boss told him and his Google X team to find another way. And Teller now believes the plan Project Loon came up with is a far better one. Instead of owning its own spectrum, Project Loon will lease its network to carriers and ISPs as its balloons passes overhead. The networks will then transmit over those carrier partners’ licensed spectrum, Teller said.

The voyage of Loon balloon I-167 as it circumnavigates the globe (source: Google)

The voyage of Loon balloon I-167 as it circumnavigates the globe (source: Google)

The concept is a fascinating one because as I’ve written before, Project Loon will be a truly stateless network riding the atmospheric winds. The same balloon beaming down wireless connectivity down to rural Texas one day will be over Iran a few weeks later.

That means Google will use the same the same network to serve all countries, but as each balloon passes over national borders, not only will its capacity be passed from carrier to carrier, but also each balloon will retune itself to transmit over each carrier’s frequencies.

It’s an odd concept to wrap your head around, I admit. You can think of as a kind of mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) in reverse. Google is basically renting out its infrastructure and letting carriers hang their own spectrum onto it.

Loon is still a long way from becoming a commercial reality — if indeed it ever even becomes one — but the more we learn about it, the more we’re discovering it’s challenging every traditional notion of how the wireless internet operates.