Loon balloons to fill Internet gaps in Indonesia's islands

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Google will begin testing Project Loon in Indonesia next year

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Earlier this year, it was revealed that Sri Lanka would become the first country in the world to receive universal Internet access via Google's high altitude balloons. Now, the firm has announced that Indonesia will be the next country in which Project Loon will take flight.

The Google X project began in June 2013 with an experimental pilot in New Zealand. It sees balloons float up to around 20 km (12 mi) above the Earth and beam Internet connectivity down to the surface below.

The balloons are solar powered and fly with the wind, ascending or descending to find a layer of wind that is blowing in the required direction. As one balloon drifts out of range, another is intended to float into range and they can each provide connectivity to an area of around 40 km (25 mi) in diameter on the ground.

Indonesia is an understandable choice of location for a Loon roll-out. The country is split across an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, not to mention it being mountainous and large swathes also being covered in jungle. All this makes the logistics of laying cables and installing mobile phone towers to deliver widespread Internet access very difficult indeed.

Google says that, as a result of these logistical difficulties, around only one in three of Indonesia's 250 million residents has access to the Internet. Balloons that fly in the stratosphere, however, don't face such difficulties and can, in Google's words, "act like floating cell phone towers in the sky."

The roll-out will be delivered in partnership with the top three mobile network operators in Indonesia: Indosat, Telkomsel and XL Axiata. It will be carried out over the next few years with the aim of blanketing the country in high-speed LTE Internet connectivity. The ability to transfer data between balloons means that even the most remote islands will be able to get connected.

Project Loon will start being tested in Indonesia next year. Google says the roll-out is the next stage in its aim to deliver "a continuous ring of connectivity in partnership with mobile network operators around the globe."

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