Google close to large-scale Project Loon deployment

(Image Credit: Google+/Project Loon)

Project Loon once seemed to be just another of Google's crazy experiments, but it's gone from strength-to-strength over the past couple of years and now the web giant is looking for an Indian carrier to run a full pilot service to a large number of people in the region. 

Although unconfirmed, there are rumours that Google is talking with an Indian telco called BSNL. Speaking to Economic Times, Google's Vice President in India, Rajan Anandan, said: "We can't do a Loon pilot without partnering with a local telco. We're talking to a number of them." 

The project, which uses balloons to broadcast internet connectivity over a wide area, has advanced in recent years and Google can now launch a balloon in 30 minutes and have it stay aloft for 100 days. Because the project is airborne, Loon has faced more regulations than a typical new telecoms service because it's also subject to local air control laws and must ensure it does not disrupt or become a danger to other users of the airspace.

Connecting India is an important goal we won't give up on, because more than a billion people in India don't have access to the internet

Large swathes of India remain unconnected, and will for much longer unless a disruptive new infrastructure deployment is delivered to bring citizens online. For those who cannot afford internet access, Facebook launched a free "basics" internet service in India earlier this year but it was blocked on net neutrality grounds for offering select access to a few services prioritised over competitors. 

At the time, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said he would work to make Free Basics legal. "While we're disappointed with today's decision," he wrote. "I want to personally communicate that we are committed to keep working to break down barriers to connectivity in India and around the world. 

"Connecting India is an important goal we won't give up on, because more than a billion people in India don't have access to the internet. We know that connecting them can help lift people out of poverty, create millions of jobs and spread education opportunities." 

However, Google's service is "at a simplistic level, it's just infrastructure in the sky ... the actual provisioning of the service is done by a local telco," said Anandan. For both Facebook and Google, as web giants, it makes sense for the companies to get as many people online and using their services as possible. According to WorldBank data, there are over 876 million people living in rural India, each of which are seen as potential new users for the companies. 

Do you think Project Loon could be a solution to rural coverage issues? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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