Following 17 million km of test flights across jungles, mountains and plains, Project Loon has signed agreements with three mobile network operators – Indosat, Telkomsel and XL Axiata – to begin testing balloon-powered Internet over Indonesia in 2016.
Currently, only about one in three of Indonesia’s 250 million residents is connected to the Internet. Stringing fiber networks or installing and maintaining mobile phone towers across the more than 17,000 islands that make up Indonesia is a significant challenge. Through balloon-to-balloon communication, Project Loon has the capability to transmit signal from areas that are connected to an Internet groundstation and bounce that signal across a constellation of balloons and back down to even the most remote islands. In flight testing, the Loon team has already been able to wirelessly transfer data between individual balloons floating over 100 km apart in the stratosphere, enabling local network operators to extend their Internet service into areas that are too difficult to reach with current technology.
The Indonesian tests will form part of the foundation for our longer term goal of providing a continuous ring of connectivity in partnership with mobile network operators around the globe and, hopefully, bringing the power of the Internet to millions of individuals, wherever they are, for the very first time.
Google X’s Project Loon says it’s teaming up with Indonesia’s three largest wireless carriers in 2016 to test its high-altitude, wind-propelled balloons with the goal of blanketing Internet coverage across large swaths of the nation.
Project Loon is targeting the world’s fourth most populous country because two-thirds of its citizens don’t have Internet access. Mike Cassidy, vice president of Project Loon, says Google parent company Alphabet wants to bring the Internet to 100 million people in Indonesia currently not connected to it.
Project Loon’s collaboration with mobile operators Indosat, Telkomsel and XL Axiata would means speeds would be fast enough to surf websites, stream videos or make purchases, Cassidy said.
Cassidy and Google co-founder Sergey Brin announced the news at a press conference Wednesday afternoon at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., where Loon inflated one of the helium balloon
Project Loon says it plans to share revenue with telecommunications providers. Its pitch: Telecoms keep subscribers while Loon provides a cost-effective alternative to building new cell towers to reach remote areas. Loon has run tests with Vodafone in New Zealand, Telstra in Australia, and Telefonica in Latin America. It says it could eventually turn into a business that could make tens of billions of dollars in revenue a year for Google parent company Alphabet.
The Indonesian experiment is just the latest development as American Internet giants parachute into the developing world. In June, Google signed a memorandum of understanding with Sri Lanka’s government, calling it an important step but cautioning it was still early in the process.