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Soon Wi-Fi enabled balloons for rural India

balloon wifiNEW DELHI: Google’s Wi-Fi enabling balloons may soon dot Indian skies. The California-based Internet giant is in talks with telecommunications companies across the world, including in India, to partner in providing balloon-based Internet to rural and developing areas that don’t have access to the web.

 

The company Google X research lab has been working on a project called Loon that aims to deliver Internet to Earth’s remote areas through fleets of balloons that act as inflatable routers.

“There are about 4.5 billion people that don’t have constant access to the Internet today and this problem is a huge problem,” Mohammad Gawdat, vice president for business innovation at Google X research lab, said at an event organised by India’s main software tradebody, the National Association of Software and Services Companies, last week.

The balloons float at about 60,000 feet in a layer of Earth’s atmosphere not affected by weather patterns and can stay up for as long as 100 days, providing wireless Internet using the same technology used by cellular devices.

In the stratosphere, winds push the balloons east to west or west to east, depending on altitude. In theory, this will allow Google to create a continuous, globe-spanning belt of Internet-delivering balloons at any latitude, though it will require thousands of balloons.

Mr. Gawdat said the company is on course to deliver superfast broadband to hard-to-reach communities from the sky by next year.

“We believe that by 2016 we can start to launch in a commercial format something that allows us to have coverage on every square-inch of planet Earth,” he said.

Mr. Gawdat said this is one of the most-affordable ways to connect the masses to the power of Internet.

The conventional way requires billions of dollars in investment to create the telecommunications tower infrastructure.

In India alone, more than 200,000 towers are required to create such as massive network for the 1.2 billion people in the world’s second most populous country, Mr. Gawdat said. Internet penetration in the world’s second-most populous country is currently around 25%.

But this infrastructure is vulnerable to natural calamities and that was what forced Google to look for a radical solution, he said.

Last year, Google said Project Loon should have a semi-permanent ring of balloons floating across the southern hemisphere in a year or so and that the balloons have logged more than two million kilometers in testing.

The other major projects that Google X is working on include Google Glass, the Internet connected eyewear and Iris, the smart contact lens as well as self-driving cars. – From Wall Street Journal

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