Alphabet’s Project Loon has an unusual name, which might suggest it is associated with fabrics or textile-based wearable technology. As it happens, Project Loon is associated with using balloons to provide high speed Internet access to those regions in developing countries that are otherwise too remote and difficult to easily use conventional means. We have news today that Alphabet is partnering with three Indonesian telecommunications companies to fly the Project Loon balloons. The three companies of Indosat, Telkomsel and XL Axiata met with former Google founder, Sergey Brin, and the Project Loon leader, Mike Cassidy. The partnership was announced at Alphabet’s headquarters, Mountain View, California, making Indonesia the fourth country to join the project. The Project Loon technology was originally successfully demonstrated a couple of years ago in New Zealand. It has subsequently been used in Brazil and Australia.
Indonesia is an ideal country for the Project Loon technology. The country is some 740,000 square miles large but is spread over 17,000 islands, which represents a significant logistical challenge for infrastructure designers and builders. Project Loon’s plan involves floating balloons over ten miles in the upper atmosphere, higher than aircraft and weather systems. From here, the balloons are able to transmit signal down below. However, for Indonesia and in order to provide adequate coverage for those islands, Alphabet will send up hundreds of balloons. Not all balloons will be connected to the three partner carriers on the ground, as they will distribute the signal amongst themselves (a different take on the concept of a cloud computing network!). Customers on the ground will see what looks like a standard WiFi network with a download speed of up to 10 Mbps, slightly below the average download speed of North American networks. When the Indonesian Project Loon is off the ground, which could make a significant difference to Internet access amongst the population where currently only one third of Indonesian citizens are able to connect to the Internet using very slow networks.
Project Loon has been in existence since 2011, where it was originally part of Google X, where secretive projects were started before being revealed to the world. Sergey Brin has explained that Google X will be renamed X as it moves under the Alphabet banner. Loon is part of Alphabet’s ongoing efforts to extend inexpensive Internet access to those on the planet without the service. The company has brokered deals in the past to bring Loon testing to Chile, Argentina, and Sri Lanka and is in competition with Facebook, which is developing a remote solar-paneled drone designed to orbit on station for up to three months broadcasting Internet signals down below.