In 2011, Google began developing Project Loon, an experimental program to provide free internet access to people in remote rural areas, using high-altitude balloons floating in the stratosphere. After test runs in New Zealand, Brazil, and the US, Project Loon is finally ready to…balloon. In 2016, Google will deploy balloons all over Sri Lanka, filling in its coverage gaps and effectively blanketing the entire island nation with broadband internet.
Harsha de Silva, Sri Lanka’s deputy minister of economic development, celebrated the news on Facebook. “Hopefully in a few months every person and every device on the island will be covered by 3G,” he said. Project Loon director Mike Cassidy traveled to Sri Lanka yesterday (July 28) to finalize the agreement with prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
According to Phys.org, all 13 helium-filled balloons should be ready by March. They’ll be placed in the stratosphere—roughly 12 miles (19 kilometers) up in the sky, scraping the edge of space. That’s about twice as high as the altitude at which most commercial planes fly. Earthlings can then connect to the floating balloon network directly from their phones. Each balloon covers up to 25 miles (40 km) in diameter on the ground.
Unfortunately, the balloons can’t stay up there forever—Google plans to replace them every 100 days or so. In order to keep their operational costs down, local internet service providers will have access to them.
Internet coverage in Sri Lankan cities is fairly robust, but it’s lacking in the more rural areas of the country. As of 2013, there were an estimated 22 million cell phones in use, but only 2.8 million mobile internet connections. There were an additional 600,000 fixed line internet connections.
As it turns out, Sri Lanka has been at the forefront of mobile technology for decades. In 1989, it was the first South Asian country to introduce mobile phones. It was also the first to implement nationwide 3G and 4G networks, in 2004 and 2013, respectively.
Image by Global Panorama on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.