March 30, 2023

Maybe Loon LLC wasn’t such a loony idea after all.
Less than two years after Alphabet Inc. shut down the company, which was developing a way to provide internet access to far flung regions using high-flying balloons, a Bay Area startup is repurposing some of Loon’s technology for its own telecommunications effort.
Aalyria Technologies Inc. is working on what it says could be the fastest long-distance wireless communications system yet created, according to reports Monday by CNBC and Bloomberg. Based in Livermore and led by former Alphabet engineers, Aalyria is using software developed by Loon to help provide high-speed internet access to satellites, planes and boats, according to Bloomberg. Its also using separate technology developed by Alphabet-owned Google to transmit data wirelessly using lasers.
“The heart of the company is to interconnect everything that exists today with everything that exists tomorrow,” Aalyria CEO Chris Taylor told Bloomberg.
Previously undisclosed but known internally as Project Sonora at Google and now called Tightbeam at Aalyria, the wireless technology the startup is developing uses lasers to transmit data through the atmosphere or space rather than through ground-based fiber-optic cables.
The long-in-development technology has traditionally been unable to meet its promise of super-high speed transmissions, because signals can be disrupted by weather-related factors, including rain and clouds. But Aalyria has designed Tightbeam to compensate for such conditions, according to Bloomberg. The technology can transmit data at up to 1.6 terabits a second over distances of hundreds of miles, according to the company. That’s more than 1,000 times faster than the 1-gigabit fiber-optic connections available in some parts of the Bay Area and country.
Dubbed Minkowski by Google and now known as Spacetime at Aalyria, the technology used to connect planes and other vehicles to the internet was developed at Google to create high-speed connections between the ground and high-altitude balloons for Loon. The technology is designed to predict when a moving vehicle is about to lose its connection to a transmitter and switch it seamlessly to a new one, according to Bloomberg.
One possible market for Aalyria’s technology is the defense industry.
Taylor is a national defense expert who spent much of his career in the Washington, D.C., area before joining the startup in November. And one of 26-person Aalyria’s first deals is an $8.7 million commercial contract that was announced by the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit over the summer, before the startup officially came out of stealth.
“I have worked with a lot of technology companies that can kind of replicate what Aalyria is doing in a very narrow geographic area,” Robert Work, a former U.S. deputy secretary of defense who’s advising the startup, told CNBC. “But Aalyria is the only one I have seen that goes across the entire globe.”
Aalyria’s competition includes SpaceX and Inc., which are providing internet access through constellations of satellites they’re launching.
Initially launched as Project Loon in 2011 under Google’s X research lab, Loon became a separate subsidiary under Alphabet in 2018. Alphabet shut down Loon early last year, saying that it couldn’t figure out how to reduce cost to turn it into a sustainable business. It announced last spring it was laying off 151 workers from the unit.
Given that it is tackling problems that stymied Google and others for a long time, Aalyria has much to prove.
“I would be broadly skeptical when someone is saying they have solved fundamental physics issues,” Nathan Kundtz, a physicist and expert in wireless communications, told Bloomberg. “This is an area that is littered with the bodies of dead companies.”
Aalyria hasn’t disclosed how much funding it has raised. Google has a minority stake that it got in exchange for access to its technology, according to Bloomberg. Colorado private equity firm J2 Partners is also an investor.
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