Google’s Project Loon is based around using balloons carrying networking equipment to be floated around 20,000 meters, or 65,000 feet, above the ground in the stratosphere and above commercial airliners and most air traffic. The balloons will be used to beam the signal down to earth using LTE frequencies and according to information from Google, a single balloon can provide coverage for an area around 25 miles in diameter. Google has successfully tested Project Loon technology in California, Brazil and New Zealand and is currently conducting tests in Sri Lanka. For India, it had wanted to test the networking technology by broadcasting at the the lower frequencies (700 or 800 MHz), because the lower the frequency, the further the signal will go and the greater the coverage. However, the Indian government had appointed a panel under the IT secretary and asked BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, a state-owned telecommunications business) to provide the necessary infrastructure for Google’s testing. Unfortunately for Google, BSNL own spectrum is at the 2,500 MHz frequency point and not at the lower end of things.
The latest is that the Indian government has asked Google to select a carrier as a partner for the testing process and an official said this on the subject: “Google wants to test the Loon Project in expensive and scarce spectrum bands. It has been asked to partner with any telecom operator that can meet its requirement and then approach the government for testing Loon.” If Google wishes to test the technology with BSNL, it must use BSNL’s existing frequencies – which (currently) means adopting the higher frequency, 2,500 MHz, part of the spectrum. And one potential stumbling block is that India has yet to start an auction for spectrum at the 700 MHz frequency point, but it is expected to be the most expensive available. The Indian telecommunications regulator, Trai, has suggested that this spectrum will reach Rs 11,485 crore per MHz and that a carrier will be required to buy at least 5 MHz.
Google have improved the networking technology incorporated into the solar powered Project Loon balloons; compared with the initial specification, a single balloon now offers ten times the capacity. However, it is unclear how well the technology will work at the higher frequencies, which are better suited to short range capacity boosting rather than longer ranged blanket coverage, which the Loon balloons provide. It is possible that Google will need to wait for the up and coming 700 MHz spectrum before selecting a carrier partner, and then reapproaching the Indian government for testing approval.