Hyderabad: India is among the countries interested in Google Inc.’s balloon project, a network of high-altitude balloons that enable Internet access to remote areas yet to be penetrated by the global network.
Project Loon, as Google calls it, will allow Internet access to remote locations with the help of specialized antennas, and could help bridge the Internet divide across the globe, and in developing countries like India where Internet access is dismal. About two-thirds of the world population doesn’t have access to the Internet.
A network of helium-filled balloons floating in the stratosphere, 20km above the earth, will provide Internet connectivity by acting as a hub for users to connect to Internet service providers, according to Project Loon’s website. The technology is being tested out in New Zealand for the past four weeks, a Google executive said.
“We have a number of different countries who have expressed interest in this including India,” Todd Rowe, managing director of global channel sales at Google, said on the sidelines of a media briefing on Wednesday.
Rowe added that it might take a while before the technology, described as a “network in the sky” is deployed in other countries. “We don’t have a specified timeframe yet because we want to finish the pilot in New Zealand and make sure it is working as effectively as we would like it to,” he said.
Deployed in the stratosphere, the balloons travel according to wind currents. They can be steered up or down through different layers of wind currents, depending on the direction they need to go. The balloons, 15 metres in diametre, are solar powered and controlled by a specialized Loon Mission Control set up by Google in New Zealand.
Users of this technology will need to install specialized Internet antennas to connect to the high bandwidth balloon network, according to Project Loon’s website. After receiving signals from specialized ground antennas below, the radios and antennas on the balloons communicate with local Internet service providers on the ground, enabling Internet access.
The technology has potential to reach places with poor Internet access.
Only 39% of the global population is connected to the Internet with Africa (16%), Asia Pacific (32%) and West Asia (38%) having the lowest Internet penetration levels in 2013, according to the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations agency responsible for information and communications technologies. In contrast the developed economies of Europe (75%) and the Americas (61%) enjoy the highest Internet penetration.
“Effectively (this is) the reason why we want to do this in many countries who lack that infrastructure, who lack the communication bandwidth,” Rowe said. “The vision is if Google can provide that from a wi-fi standpoint to hundreds of thousands of people at low (cost) or no cost especially in developing markets that have very little money.”
India has the third highest number of Internet users in the world after China and the US at 150 million, but penetration accounts for just 12.58% of the country’s population of 1.2 billion.
Google has identified connectivity as one of the key challenges in India as it looks to penetrate deeper, reach out to more people and expand business.