Google’s Project Loon internet balloons will soon cover the Indonesian sky

Google plans to deploy hundreds of Project Loon balloons in an effort to make fast internet more accessible to the citizens of Indonesia. The company will collaborate with Indonesian network operators for transmitting LTE-speed connections to around 100 million people in the region. To that end, Google has signed a memorandum of understanding with Indonesian telecom operators — Indosat, Telkomsel, and XL Axiata. The testing of Project Loon airborne base station technology across Indonesia will start next year.

In comparison with many countries in Africa and other parts of Asia, Indonesia is somewhat ahead in internet connectivity, but it still ranks lowest across southeast Asia. Going by the estimates, the southeast Asian nation has a population of around 256 million, which distributes across more than 17,000 islands. Local data suggests that only one-third of the population has access to the internet. However, estimates Indonesia ranks 135th in the world with 15.8 percent internet user penetration.

Google started its ambitious Project Loon two years back, with a target to transmit high-speed internet through a bunch of balloons hovering 18,000 meters above the Earth’s surface. Indonesia will be the fourth destination for testing the project. Google conducted previous trials in Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand.

Instead of obtaining private spectrum in the above cases, Google chose to ally with local operators and utilize their services. It’s using balloons to transmit the service because frequency bands deliver better coverage from the sky (18-20 km above the ground). Traffic from the balloon network then transfers to the base station of each local operator.

Geographically, Indonesia makes pervasive internet connectivity difficult. Keeping that in mind, Google thinks Project Loon will be just the right fit. In a Google+ post, Mike Cassidy, vice president for Project Loon, wrote that he hopes “Loon can help telecommunications companies extend their networks.”

Hers’s how it will work: Signals from areas with good connectivity will be transmitted to the solar-powered balloons, which in the form of an airborne network can then beam it to the areas with low connectivity. “High in the sky, we can help overcome the difficulties of spreading equipment across an archipelago of 17,000 island, jungles, and mountains, providing connectivity to even the most remote islands,” Cassidy said.

Google’s goal is to provide high-speed Internet to more than 100 million people currently with no access within five years. In a separate initiative, Google announced to provide high-speed public Wi-Fi access at 400 railway stations in India. It has also tested Project Loon in New Mexico, Chile, and Sri Lanka.

The team behind the Project Loon has plans to launch more than 300 balloons throughout 2016. As soon as the balloons cover the complete southern hemisphere, the team will begin signing up interested users for entering the beta project. Finally, the quality of balloons has improved since the ones deployed in the initial phase of the project. The new balloons take just 15 minutes to set up and broadcast data at speeds up to 10Mbps.