Google will start testing Internet-beaming balloons in Indonesia next year, in the hope of connecting 100 million more people to the Internet.
Indonesia is made up of more than 17,000 islands, most of which are riddled with mountains or thick jungle. This extreme geography has made it more or less impossible to install fiber optic cables or mobile signal towers. As such, nearly a third of the 4th most populated country in the world has been left without access the Internet.
However, Google has come to the rescue with Project Loon. Along with three Indonesian Internet service providers – Telkomsel, Axiata and Inmost – the tech giant hopes to start testing "balloon-powered Internet" by next year.
The plan is to send up 12-meter-tall (39-feet-tall) helium-filled balloons around 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) up into the stratosphere, where they can “beam” down Internet speeds of 10 megabits per second. Each balloon is loaded up with a solar panel, a flight computer with GPS and an altitude control system.
On the Google Blog, the company said: “The Internet is still out of reach for too many people, but we’re making progress. If all goes well, soon many more millions of people in Indonesia will be able to bring their ideas, culture and businesses online. At that point, the sky’s the limit.”
The Loon Project is part of a wider initiative to link Indonesia up to the rest of the world. Just 23% of Indonesians own smartphones, so Google-Android are releasing affordable smartphones called Android One. They’ve also added Indonesian languages, such as Bahasa and Sundanese, to Google Translate to welcome them into the "cybernautical world."
“[We need] about 300 balloons or so to make a continuous string around the world," Mike Cassidy, vice-president of Project Loon, told the BBC. "We hope next year to build our first continuous ring around the world, and to have some sort of continuous coverage for certain regions."