Alphabet’s Project Loon balloons to deliver Internet to Indonesia’s islands

29 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Alphabet’s Project Loon aims high.

Google’s internet-beaming balloons are ready to take off on the next phase of the mission to deliver online access in regions where most people live offline.San Francisco – Google parent Alphabet signed a deal to work with three Indonesian telecommunications firms to test its Internet-beaming balloons across the country, part of an effort to get more of the world online to broaden the audience for Google’s services. “It’s going to take a number of companies and governments and organisations coming together to provide communications to everyone, but we are super-excited to play a role,” Sergey Brin, co-founder of the Mountain View, California-based company, said on Wednesday. The balloons, which transmit high-speed internet signals, will now begin hovering in the stratosphere above Indonesia in an expansion of the two-year-old project.

Alphabet’s X unit, formerly called Google X, is working with Indonesian telecommunication companies PT Indosat, PT Telekomunikasi Selular, and PT XL Axiata on the project, said Mike Cassidy, who leads the initiative known as Project Loon. The ambitious “Project Loon” is aimed at delivering Internet connections to remote or impoverished areas worldwide using a floating network of thousands of the high-tech balloons. About 250 million people live in the country composed of about 17,000 islands, although only 42 million have internet access, according to estimates from the CIA.

They will spend the next year using hundreds of balloons to perform tests of the technology, such as communication between balloons and ground-to-balloon and synchronising the movements of balloon swarms, he said. “This testing is going to be very revealing to us in terms of how close we are to launch,” Cassidy said. “If all these tests go well it should be soon after that that we’re ready for a commercial launch.” Indonesia is a good test market for Project Loon as it is the fourth-most populous country in the world and is composed of numerous islands that are difficult to link to the Internet via traditional cables, Cassidy said. Once on the edge of space, the balloons will be twice as high as commercial airliners, above any bad weather and barely visible to the naked eye, Google says. Alphabet says Projects Loon is striving to get about 100 million currently unconnected people tapped into the vast reservoir of knowledge, entertainment and conveniences available online. Project Loon is still testing its technology, so there is still no estimate when it will start selling the internet service to households and businesses within range of the balloons. Indonesia comprises thousands of islands, some of them jungle or mountainous, which make it tricky to run fiber optic cable or install mobile phone towers. “Over the next few years we’re hoping that Loon will help put high-speed LTE Internet connections within reach of more than 100 million Indonesians, giving them access to the limitless educational, cultural, and economic opportunities of the Internet,” Cassidy said.

Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, was scheduled to visit Google on Wednesday as part of a US tour, but had to cancel his trip because of haze in his country caused by forest fires. But it could also enrich Google by expanding the potential audience that can query its search engine, watch video on YouTube, correspond through Gmail and click on digital ads. The tests next year will be with Indosat, Telkomsel and XL Axiata, Cassidy said, calling it “a key milestone for the Loon team as we continue to test, learn and expand the project”. The Internet access will be sold through wireless service providers in Indonesia, where there the number of mobile phones – about 319 million – outnumber people. Google co-founder Sergey Brin sees Project Loon eventually creating millions of jobs around the world to raise the standard of living for now-impoverished people.

To pull it off, the project’s engineers must choreograph a high-altitude dance, ensuring that as one balloon drifts out of a targeted territory’s Internet-receiving range, another one will float in to fill the void.

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