by Dan Jones
Google's 4G LTE "Project Loon" balloon scheme is going into orbit above Indonesia to test to see if the search giant can provide Internet connectivity from the skies for one of the most underserved countries in the world.
Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) says it will launch 3,000 balloons that will form a ring around the world and hopefully provide Indonesia with 4G data connections from the sky. Google is working with three regional service providers -- Indosat, Telkomsel, and XL Axiata -- to bring the service to 100 million Indonesians over the next two years. Indonesia is a nation made up of over 17,000 islands with tough-to-wire terrain like mountains and jungles.
"These tests with Indosat, Telkomsel, and XL Axiata are an important step toward bringing all of Indonesia online, and a key milestone for the Loon team as we continue to test, learn and expand the project," Google notes on its blog. (See Google Ready to Release Thousands of Loons .)
Google has been looking into Internet connectivity via balloon since at least 2008. The Project Loon balloons are free-floating weather sky balloons that will orbit more than 12 miles above the earth. Google launched a pilot program -- and 30 balloons -- to test the technology in New Zealand in 2013 and has run tests in Brazil. Sri Lanka is also considering using the system for Internet connectivity.
Deep-pocketed Google is exploring three ways of delivering Internet from the sky: balloons, high-altitude solar drones and micro satellites. It is not alone in this new space race: Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH), Facebook andSamsung Corp. are all exploring orbital or near-earth options too. (See Forget the Internet, Brace for Skynet and The New Internet Space Race: Google's Final Frontier?)
With the Indonesian agreement, Project Loon may establish Google as the front-runner in the race to deliver Internet from above to the world's underserved populations.