Google’s “Project Loon,” aimed at providing high-speed internet service to remote regions of the world via a ring of helium-filled balloons circling the globe on stratospheric winds, has begun trials in Sri Lanka, Muhunthan Canagey, the government’s information and communications technology chief, said Monday.
One of three balloons being used in the trials, which have previously been conducted in Australia and Indonesia, entered Sri Lankan airspace Monday, Canagey said, adding that a Google team was expected to arrive later this week to test flight controls and efficiency.
“The first balloon entered our airspace this morning. It was launched from South America,” Canagey told Agence France-Presse (AFP). “It is currently over southern Sri Lanka.”
— Muhunthan Canagey (@mcanagey) February 15, 2016
A project that has been in development since mid-2011, Loon aims to utilize ground stations connected to the local internet infrastructure to beam signals to the solar-powered balloons, which, once they reach the stratosphere, will be twice as high as commercial airliners and would be barely visible to the naked eye. These balloons would then be able to communicate with each other, forming a mesh in the sky.
Google’s ultimate goal is to have a ring of balloons circling the Earth, bringing internet to the estimated two-thirds of people who are presently unwired. It also hopes that the balloons could one day provide coverage to areas struck by natural disasters.
Sri Lanka — an island nation of 20.5 million people — currently has nearly 4 million internet users. The Sri Lankan government announced earlier this month that it would take a 25 percent stake in the joint venture with Google, which promises to expand internet coverage in the country at cheaper rates.
“Our objective is to extend coverage so that the entire island will be covered,” Sri Lanka’s telecommunications minister Harin Fernando said earlier this month. “With competition, tariffs will also come down.”