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Universal internet access through solar powered balloons in Sri Lanka

Monday 12 October 2015, by SIGNIS

Colombo, Brussels, October 12th, 2015 (Chandeepa Wettasinghe/Daily Mirror.lk/SIGNIS) On December 31st, 2015, trials will start in Sri Lanka, in order to build a global balloon network which will allow the whole country to access the internet in March 2016.

The Sri Lankan government signed recently a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with tech giant Google Inc. to make Sri Lanka the first country in the world to have universal Wi-Fi Internet access through solar powered balloons of the Google Loon project, which will act as telecom towers in the sky. “You can get high-speed Internet directly from the sky, without the obstacles that interfere with normal towers. The main beneficiaries will be the citizens and the telecommunication companies”.

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Google and the Sri-lankan government in July 2015

Information Communication Technology Agency CEO Muhunthan Canagey, who signed the MoU on behalf of Sri Lankan government said that with this ‘game changer’, rural societies will have the same opportunities as those living in cities and stressed that Internet is a citizen’s right in a knowledge-centric world. He noted that data charges will be brought down drastically as more citizens will start using the Internet thanks to the new infrastructure. “Currently, the data charges are ridiculous. For low charges, the speeds are low, and telecom companies put limits on the bandwidth,” he noted. Google Loon will allow up to 40 Mbps speeds and 22 Mbps LTE services. Canagey said that telecoms cannot currently provide such speed, due to the cluttering of telecom towers which too will be enhanced due to the balloons which are called Raven Aerostar. “The spectrums are not efficiently being used. As the connections will be transferred to the balloons, it will clear the clutter and provide faster connections through the towers as well,” he added. Canagey also pointed out that new towers will not be erected anymore, saving the country from environmental damages.

The balloons work by floating in the stratosphere 20 kilometers above the earth’s surface. They stay in place by shifting up and down between different wind layers in the stratosphere. Each balloon can cover up to 5000 square kilometers with broadband connectivity. Canagey said that Google signed the MoU for 13 balloons to be floating simultaneously, which would cover the entire island. He noted that the current flight limit for the solar powered balloon is 187 days, which will become even longer as technology evolves. “There won’t be any downtime, because before one balloon reaches the end of its limit, another will be sent before bringing the other down. So we’ll actually be getting 14 or 15 balloons to ensure there is no downtime,” he added.

Google will monitor the balloons which will be integrated to the global balloon network, which includes those in the pilot projects conducted in New Zealand and the US. Canagey said that trials will start on December 31st, 2015, and the service will go online by March 31st, 2016. He noted that countrywide Internet access will promote the Internet of things model in Sri Lanka, allowing the government and other organizations to gather information and analyze them easily. He expressed that the government will continue to invest in free Wi-Fi hotspots across the country, currently being set up across over 1,000 public locations and 3,500 state sector buildings. “We will also try to work out a model for free limited Wi-Fi through the balloons,” he added.

More info on the Google Loon Project.

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