AFP and Daily Mail, Australia, 17 February 2016, where the title is “Google’s ‘Project Loon’ takes off: Giant internet-beaming balloons begin first tests with cellphone firm in Sri Lanka”
Google’s balloon-powered high-speed Internet service known as ‘Project Loon’ began its first tests in Sri Lanka Monday ahead of a planned joint venture with Colombo, the country’s top IT official said. One of three balloons that will be used in the trials entered Sri Lankan airspace Monday, the Information and Communication Technology Agency chief Muhunthan Canagey said.
‘The first balloon entered our airspace this morning. It was launched from South America,’ Canagey told AFP. ‘It is currently over southern Sri Lanka.’ He said a Google team was expected later this week to test flight controls, spectrum efficiency and other technical matters. The government announced earlier this month it would take a 25 percent stake in a joint venture with Google to deliver a high-speed Internet service powered by helium-filled balloons. Sri Lanka is not investing any capital, but will take the stake in return for allocating spectrum for the project.
A further 10 percent of the joint venture would be offered to existing telephone service providers on the island. It promises to extend coverage and cheaper rates for data services. 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.
The balloons, once in the stratosphere, will be twice as high as commercial airliners and barely visible to the naked eye.
WHAT IS PROJECT LOON AND HOW DO THE BALLOONS WORK?
Project Loon is a network of balloons travelling on the edge of space, designed to connect people to the internet in remote parts of the world. The balloons travel approximately 12 miles (20km) above the Earth’s surface in the stratosphere. Winds in the stratosphere are stratified, and each layer of wind varies in speed and direction, so Project Loon uses software algorithms to determine where its balloons need to go. It then moves each one into a layer of wind blowing in the right direction. By moving with the wind, the balloons can be arranged to form one large communications network.
Winds in the stratosphere are stratified, and each layer of wind varies in speed and direction, so Project Loon uses algorithms to determine where its balloons need to go. It then moves each one into a layer of wind blowing in the right direction (illustrated) The inflatable part of the balloon is called a balloon envelope made from sheets of polyethylene plastic that are 49ft (15 metres) wide and 40ft (12 metres) tall when inflated. The balloons harness power from card table-sized solar panels that dangle below them, and they can gather enough charge in four hours to power them for a day. Each balloon can provide connectivity to a ground area of around 25 miles (40km) in diameter using LTE, also referred to as 4G, technology.
The balloons will have a lifespan of about 180 days, but can be recycled, according to Sri Lankan officials involved in the venture. Official figures show there are 3.3 million mobile Internet connections and 630,000 fixed line Internet subscribers among Sri Lanka’s more than 20 million population.
Sri Lanka became the first country in South Asia to introduce mobile phones in 1989 and the first to roll out a 3G network in 2004. It was also the first in the region to unveil a 4G network two years ago.