Google’s Project Loon is entering the testing phase in Sri Lanka, the government of which announced a partnership with Google last July for bringing connectivity to all the island’s people.
The Sri Lankan government said Tuesday that the first of the three Loon balloons to be used in the trial arrived at the start of the week. According to AFP, the balloon was launched from South America.
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Google’s(GOOG) balloons are essentially a network of solar-powered, airborne cell towers floating at a height of around 20 kilometers (12 miles), or roughly twice as high as planes fly. The network draws its own connectivity from ground stations and passes it on balloon-to-balloon — people then connect to the balloon using a phone or other 4G/LTE-capable device.
Sri Lanka is a rugged island and a lot of its citizens lack any connection to the Internet. It only has 38% mobile broadband penetration, although 3G networks theoretically provide coverage to 90 percent of the population.
Through a world-first joint venture between Google and the government, there will be 15 Loon balloons providing coverage to Sri Lanka.
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The Sri Lankan government said at the start of this month that it would take a 25 percent stake in the joint venture, in exchange for dedicating radio spectrum to its work. Local telecoms operators will also have the option of buying a 10 percent stake in the joint venture.
Project Loon will also be tested in countries including Indonesia this year.
Like Facebook(FB), Google is trying to expand its potential markets by extending connectivity to those who currently lack it. So far, though, it seems Loon is purely an infrastructural play. Facebook has gone further by setting up portals of special content that first-time Internet users can get for free, and the way in which it has done so has opened it up to charges of neo-colonialism.