One of Google's best-known moonshots is its Internet-beaming balloon project, whimsically named Project Loon. Google recently announced its plans to accelerate Project Loon in the coming months. So as Google's Project Loon and other key projects prepare for their literal and figurative liftoffs, should investors cheer or chide these costly projects?
Up, up, and away
Late last month, Google released a new promotional video for Project Loon, touting a number of impressive advancements it's made in evolving Loon into a large-scale business capable of using a network of high-altitude balloons to provide sweeping LTE coverage to the remote corners of the globe. Take a look. It's impressive stuff.
Between improved guidance software, increased flight times, durability of the balloons, and coordination with several regional telecom carriers, the video gives the impression that Loon has evolved since its official announcement in June 2013 from a seemingly quixotic pet project into a viable commercial enterprise. This is a hugely impressive rate of improvement, one that highlights the little-credited business discipline Google typically applies to its high-risk, high-reward projects and investments. And as far-fetched as the idea might seem at first, investors should realize Project Loon could provide huge tailwinds for Google for years to come.
As a company whose revenues and profits are clearly correlated with the number of people able to access its sprawling series of services, overall global Internet access is about as fundamental a potential constraint to Google's ongoing growth as exists today. And Loon offers a potentially viable solution to ensuring that our world becomes increasingly connected, much to Google's benefit.
There are some key markets Google can potentially never enter, places such as Russia or China, where country-specific policies create disincentives for Google to operate and where homegrown search alternatives such as Yandex and Baidu, respectively, have already risen to fill the Google-less void. However, even overlooking these unique situations, the fact that two-thirds of the people on planet Earth lack Internet access means Google could still hugely increase its long-term profit potential by finding a creative solution to this problem. It's no accident that companies such as Google and Facebook are at the forefront of the campaign to provide Web access to all. And while their intentions might not be as completely altruistic as they might have you believe, moonshots such as Project Loon bode very well for the long-term trajectory of Google and its investors.
Shoot for the moon(shot)
Loon serves as a perfect example that, although they might appear initially nonsensical, Google's moonshots and secret investments almost always connect back to some kind of big-ticket commercial opportunity.
These kinds of projects also speak to Google management's clear desire to keep their company at the forefront of technology for generations to come. It's a common trait we've seen at other hugely successful companies such as Amazon.com, one that increases the chances, but doesn't necessarily guarantee, that a company will not succumb to the nearly inevitable decline that drags down most firms.
This kind of discussion probably extends past the average shareholder's intended holding period. However, as long-term investors, we at the Fool believe in investing or saving with a time frame of decades, not quarters, in mind. And coming from that perspective, Google's recent efforts with Project Loon and its other motley crew of moonshots should encourage investors that Google is indeed a company with the vision and capability to adapt to, or more likely create, whatever our rapidly evolving world will look like a generation from now.