Telecommunications

Google's Project Loon balloons to cover Sri Lanka with internet access

Google's Project Loon balloons...
Project Loon balloons like this are set to bring universal internet access to all of Sri Lanka
Project Loon balloons like this are set to bring universal internet access to all of Sri Lanka
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The Project Loon balloons are designed to fly through the stratosphere at around 20 km (12.4 mi) above the Earth's surface
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The Project Loon balloons are designed to fly through the stratosphere at around 20 km (12.4 mi) above the Earth's surface
The balloons would be equipped with solar panels and carry a box of communications gear underneath, claimed to provide LTE internet connectivity to an area around 40 km (25 mi) on the ground
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The balloons would be equipped with solar panels and carry a box of communications gear underneath, claimed to provide LTE internet connectivity to an area around 40 km (25 mi) on the ground
Project Loon balloons like this are set to bring universal internet access to all of Sri Lanka
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Project Loon balloons like this are set to bring universal internet access to all of Sri Lanka
The Project Loon balloons are designed to fly through the stratosphere at around 20 km (12.4 mi) above the Earth's surface
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The Project Loon balloons are designed to fly through the stratosphere at around 20 km (12.4 mi) above the Earth's surface

Bringing internet to remote regions by sending internet-enabled balloons into the stratosphere sure sounds like a wild idea, but it's about to become a reality for the resident of Sri Lanka. The government of the island nation has just announced a partnership with Google that will bring affordable high-speed internet access to every inch of the country using the company's Project Loon balloons.

Project Loon wouldn't really be at home anywhere other than the Google X lab, the company's secretive research arm from which all manner of left-field ideas have emerged, including glucose-monitoring contact lenses, delivery drones, Lego-like displays and a little venture known as Google Glass.

It's not always easy to tell how serious Google is about some of these ambitious concepts, but it seems determined to make Project Loon a reality. The company's vision is for a network of balloons floating in the stratosphere at around 20 km (12.4 mi) above the Earth's surface. The balloons are equipped with solar panels and carry a box of electronics and communications gear underneath that provides LTE internet connectivity to an area on the ground around 40 km (25 mi) in diameter.

The announcement by the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry this week of the partnership with Google will see Sri Lanka, which boasts an area of 65,610 sq km (25,332 sq mi), become the first country in the world to boast universal internet access via the high altitude balloons. Deployment of the balloons is set to begin in the coming months, with the launches expected to be completed by March, 2016.

Source: Sri Lankan Government

6 comments
Synchro
Wow, that's a really cheap way for Google to get unrestricted personal data on everyone in a country at once.
habakak
A lot of effort, planning, management and good-luck is required to make this work. I would like to know how many bases and employees would be required to make this work (just for Sri Lanka). I hope they do succeed and this spreads all over the world.
ChetanNaik
But how are they going to keep them under control ?? Wont they over time fly away from Sri Lank ??
christopher
No mention of what gas they're using - not here, not on their web site homepage either... my guess: they totally understand that wasting helium is bad PR, so they're hiding that.
ncm
At ~500 mi² per, that takes, under impossibly ideal conditions, 50 balloons in place at all times. Figure 150 or more, in practice. As they drift out of useful range they need to be recovered and redeployed upwind. How fast does the wind blow at their altitude? That determines how many balloons must be launched, per day, along a line 160 miles long, at sea, and (maybe?) recovered 200 miles downrange and transported back to the release line. How are they recovered? By aircraft? Boat? Or are they abandoned? Maybe Facebook's solar-powered drones are looking better now.
SpencerBickelmann
Reply to "ncm" Google owns a drone company as well. You know sometimes when you see multiple companies doing the same thing is means a giant shift in mentality that something can be achieved and it simply comtributes to the goal. Even if one company fails it gives them the opportunity to learn from whomever did succeed and allows them to change their plan so they too can succeed.