The emerald nation of Sri Lanka is all set to become the first country in the world to see the commercial launch of Google’s Project Loon, according to a report from French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP). The country’s Foreign Minister, Mr. Mangala Samaraweera, who also holds the additional ministerial portfolio of Information Technology, announced the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Google in the capital city of Colombo. Announcing the deal, he said, “The entire Sri Lankan island – every village from (southern) Dondra to (northern) Point Pedro – will be covered with affordable high-speed Internet using Google Loon’s balloon technology”. If and when the deal does go through officially, the entire country will be covered by internet with “3G-like speeds” using this technology. Aside from Google, local internet service providers will also have access to the high-flying balloons, which will reduce their operational costs. Google conducted a pilot experiment in the island nation of New Zealand in 2013 in coordination with the country’s Civil Aviation Authority. The company has, since, carried out further tests in Brazil last year.
Project Loon, which was envisaged by Google in 2011 and officially announced in 2013, has been a part of its ambitious Google X research ever since, and aims to bring high-speed internet coverage to remote areas as yet uncovered by existing internet infrastructure. For those not familiar, Google X has been the driving force behind some of the most ambitious and secretive projects undertaken by the internet giant, including smart contact lenses and self-driving cars, among others. As for Loon, it has been one of the pet projects of the Mountain View, CA-based company for some time, and was named as such since Google itself found the idea of an internet service delivery mechanism through floating balloons to be ‘crazy’. According to the company, the balloons will fly at an altitude of about 20 miles (32 kilometers) above the surface of the Earth, which is about twice as high as the flight path of commercial airliners, and will be “barely visible to the naked human eye”, according to Google.
As for Google’s deal with Sri Lanka, the Head of the country’s Information and Communication Technology Agency, Mr. Muhunthan Canagey, said that he expects Google to get its infrastructure up and running by the March, 2016. Speaking to AFP after inking the deal with Google VP and project leader for Loon, Mr. Michael Cassidy, he said, “Service providers will be able to access higher speeds and improve the quality of their existing service once the balloon project is up and running. We can also expect prices to come down (eventually)”.
The attempt to bring high-speed internet service to remote and rural regions of the world is not just restricted to Google though. In recent times, high-profile tech companies including Facebook and SpaceX have been looking to find innovative ways to connect rural populations around the globe to the World Wide Web, using technology raging from balloons to satellites to drones. If even some of these projects do take off eventually, it would be a welcome relief for harried customers, who’re stuck with slow and unreliable internet services in remote regions and will also provide an additional revenue stream for the companies involved in the development and marketing of the new technologies.