Carrier testing next phase for Project Loon

Feb 16, 2016, 2:56 PM EST
Project loon balloon. (Source: Doug Coldwell/flickr)
Project loon balloon. (Source: Doug Coldwell/flickr)
Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has said it has conducted initial tests of Project Loon over Sri Lanka in one of the most innovative attempts to deliver internet access on Earth right now.
 
As reviewed on Blouin News, Project Loon is the company’s initiative aimed at delivering high-speed internet using balloons. The project launched in 2012, and has slowly piqued interest around the world as it tests balloons. Working with telcos is the next chapter for Project Loon as its leaders look to partner with carriers and telcos in order to be functional in certain airspace, even as it continues to test different types of balloons and the technology needed to make wind-propelled, internet-carrying balloons a reality. The Wall Street Journal reports that the first of three balloons of a trial over Sri Lanka entered the country’s airspace on Monday, having launched initially in South America.
 
Head of Alphabet’s X branch Astro Teller wrote in a blog post on the company’s progress:
 
These days, with our latest balloon, here, we can navigate a two mile vertical stretch of sky and sail a balloon to within 500 meters of where we want it to go from 20,000 kilometers away. We still need to lower balloon costs, but last year a balloon made inexpensively went around the world 19 times over 187 days, so we’re going to keep going.
 
Today our balloons are doing pretty much everything we’d need a complete system to do. We’re now in commercial discussions with telcos around the world and we’ll be flying over places like Indonesia for real service testing this year. 
 
Google (before Alphabet took over) was indeed expected to attempt operation with Project Loon over Indonesia this year; the company said it was teaming up with wireless carriers in preparation for testing the wind-propelled balloons. And even though Sri Lanka’s population is desperately in need of internet connections (the country has 20 million people, and only 3.3 million mobile data connections and 630,000 fixed line web subscribers) it is still a market foreign tech firms are eyeing. Indonesia is an up-and-coming player in tech thanks to its startup culture and its huge population (fourth largest in the world). And Sri Lanka is among the other Southeast Asian markets that the tech world sees as of potential value, should it be able to establish better internet connections.
 
But infrastructure is the key element missing as countries like Sri Lanka struggle to create internet connections in a world already light years ahead. And technology such as Project Loon bypasses these infrastructure needs. Over the past few years, it has become obvious that establishing legacy infrastructure in countries without it -- many of which are in Africa -- is not the most efficient way to distribute internet connectivity. But the question has remained "how to skip over infrastructure needs?". Project Loon addresses that question, and although it is still in its nascent stages, it has come much farther than observers initially thought it could when Google broached the idea. We will see how far carrier testing can go, and whether the project can go full steam ahead.
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