Google will float helium balloons over rural India for Internet connectivity if an experiment testing the concept yields promising results, a senior official of the company said.
“Though we are still in the pilot phase, we have received several queries on the project and India has also shown great interest in the project,” said Todd Rowe managing director for global sales channels at Google. However, he said there was no time frame to launch the project in India as it depends on the success of the ongoing pilot project.
Project Loon was launched as a pilot earlier this month in New Zealand to provide affordable Internet access in remote and rural parts. The plan is to have several balloons floating around the earth at an altitude of 20 km, or twice the height at which commercial aircraft fly, and beaming connectivity to areas that are not served by traditional copper or fibre optic networks. Special equipment that can be fixed on the roofs will communicate with the balloon, acting as the link enabling the user to communicate with the balloon.
As part of the pilot phase, 30 balloons have been sent up from New Zealand, and 50 test users were able to access the Internet using the access provided by the balloon network. The 15-m-wide balloons can stay in the air for 100 days.
Google, whose business prospects are directly related to the number of Internet users, considers the balloon solution as an audacious project bordering on science fiction. The company claims that connection speeds will be comparable to typical 3G access provided by cellular networks. India has over 130 million Internet users, and nearly 900 million cell-phone users, an increasing number of whom are using their mobile phones to access the internet.
Google already runs Google Fiber, a project to provide Internet at speeds of one gigabit per second, or fast enough to download a high-definition movie in a matter of seconds. Launched in 2011, the service is now available in three American towns. Rowe was in Hyderabad to announce Google’s strategy for small and medium enterprises as well as the company’s growth plans for that market.
Google sees “great potential” in the south India and hopes to double the number of sales and distribution partners it works with by 2014 end, he said.