Loon tunes in to Indonesian field trials of balloon internet service

18 Feb 2016

US-based search engine giant Google is readying trials of its balloon-based broadband internet service in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, dubbed Project Loon. According to a report in online news journal Gizmodo, Google is working to improve the balloon delivery system that will serve as the ‘base station’ for Project Loon and reports success in terms of a number of technical improvements that it claims will both reduce overall investment costs and make the balloons themselves easier to control. Pre-commercial trials of the service are understood to be achieving peak download speeds of around 15Mbps; in Indonesia, all three major mobile operators – Telkomsel, Indosat Ooredoo and XL Axiata – will be using the 900MHz frequency employed by the Google balloons, subject to them securing the relevant supporting regulatory approval.

According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, in October 2015 Alphabet Inc, the new holding company for Google, partnered with Telkomsel, XL Axiata and Indosat Ooredoo to develop country-wide internet access using a network of solar-powered balloons. Project Loon will serve the nation of around 250 million people by sending balloons up 5,000 metres to deliver internet access via radio signals back to antennae on the ground. Project Loon is part of Alphabet’s experimental ‘X’ division, which is tasked with exploring far-off technologies dubbed ‘moonshots’, such as its self-driving car technology. Under Project Loon, the partners will send up balloons as they assess where gaps in service exist in the 17,000-strong island archipelago, before deciding on when to launch a full-scale commercial service. Google’s holding company has piloted similar projects in Brazil, New Zealand and Australia, albeit with a single carrier. Project Loon Vice President Mike Cassidy said at the time that the Indonesian partnership marks a first in terms of coordination of signals sent from multiple carriers, and says the service could eventually reach 100 million users.