I have a riddle for you: What is the size of a tennis court, filled with helium and might be your lifeline to the internet in the next natural disaster?
Stumped? I’m not surprised. The answer is a Loon balloon.
Telekom Kenya announced July 7 that a fleet of 35 Loons would begin delivering 4G LTE internet to tens of thousands of Kenyans, across 31,000 square miles. The commercial deployment is the first on the African continent.
It’s also the shape of things to come as engineers explore what is possible with data managment.
You might remember Project Loon from six years ago. Google announced the “moonshot” company six years ago. It was the kind of big, ambitious idea that earned the search giant a reputation for squandering shareholder cash. Like the Google Glass — the always on, augmented reality eyeglasses — Loon seemed frivolous. Critics called it an expensive solution looking for problem.
At the time, it was easy to understand the doubt.
For starters, Loon balloons are essentially floating cell towers on the edge of space. Engineers needed to find a way to choreograph the giant polyethylene bubbles while dealing with extreme temperatures and winds that could reach 60 mph. Their solution involved solar powered pumps to regulate elevation, and lots of data analytics. In the early going, it was hit and miss.
In 2016, Project Loon had a breakthrough. Managers discovered that by allowing algorithms to interpret data and dictate the flight paths, balloon fleets became more efficient. Software directed some balloons to loiter over big land masses while others sprinted to new locations.
It was a tightly orchestrated dance of machines and math 12.5 miles above the Earth’s surface.
According to a corporate blog post, Project Loon reached one million hours of flight.
Now all of that research is being deployed for real high above the Kenyan plains. The east African country is atypical of the continent where internet access is less than 30%. The New York Times reports almost 83% of Kenya’s 48 million people are connected to the internet. Loon managers see other opportunities.
Alastair Wesgarth, chief executive of Loon, says Kenya is ideal because officials have embraced innovative ways to get people connected. Moving quickly and slicing through red tape has been a big part of Loon’s early development.
For example, Peru was devastated in 2019 by a magnitude 8.0 earthquake. Communication infrastructure was knocked all over the country. Within 48 hours Loon balloons were overhead and servicing customers.
The hardware is cool but investors should focus on the software. Loon is only possible because software engineers have been able to pull data into innovative algorithms that learn using artificial intelligence.
MongoDB, Inc. (MDB) is a cloud-based, next-generation database platform. The company was founded in 2008 by Dwight Merriman, Kevin Ryan and Eliot Horowitz, the same trio that built and later sold DoubleClick to Google for $1.5 billion in 2005.
They saw a big opportunity to develop a new document database architecture from the ground up, unmoored from legacy relational databases. MongoDB leveraged emerging technologies like cloud, mobile and the internet. The timing was perfect.
The stock is has been a big winner. The stock is up 875% since its 2017 initial public offering.
Investors have been willing to pay a big premium because sales growth has since 2017 has averaged 58%. Fiscal 2020 revenues, for example, surged 58% to $421 million. And analysts expect the total addressable market will surge to $80 billion by 2022.
The demand for data management software seems insatiable. Then again, it makes sense when you consider living in a world where engineers have figured out a way to move cell towers around the globe without laying concrete foundations and forging steel.
The world is changing. Data, algorithms and software are the future. Put MongoDB on your watch list.