Google’s Project Loon takes Flight

by Matt Klassen on October 30, 2015

Earlier this year we reported on Google’s audacious plan to connect the erstwhile unconnected billions on the planet today, one that involved establishing a global Internet network on the backs of specialized high-altitude balloons, a project the company first announced in 2013. Having gone through several smaller trials, the company announced this week that it has the green light to begin larger, more comprehensive trials in Indonesia, one of Asia’s least connected countries.

The tech giant announced on Wednesday that it will launch the first balloons in Indonesia as part of Project Loon in 2016, teaming up with local mobile network operators to beam down high-speed wireless LTE connections to more than 100 million people across many of the country’s approximately 17,000 islands.

Like other competing efforts from the likes of Facebook, rather than acquire and deploy its own spectrum and create its own wireless network, Google has decided that partnering with local telcos is the most efficient and cost-effective way to proceed, expanding existing infrastructure through difficult and cost-prohibitive areas through the use of the balloons.

As I’ve long said, I’m both impressed and dismayed at the efforts of Google and Facebook to connect the unconnected billions, a worth endeavour, to be sure, but one that I’m concerned will simply lead to the online dominance of these companies in developing markets.

The simple fact is that for Google, in particular, all the hardware it creates and the services it develops are designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to attract eyes for advertising. While it’s certainly a welcome advancement that Google has created a unique way to expand telecom companies’ networks through difficult and challenging locations, such expansion will come at the cost of Google dictating where and how its balloons will be used, and dictating what piece of the revenue pie it will garner from such an arrangement.

Add to that the likelihood of Google dictating that a package of its advertisement-laden services be delivered to the unconnected billions as well, and you’ve got yet another recipe for Internet dominance.

But that said, Indonesia will prove to be an interesting test for Google’s high-flying Internet balloons, as the country is home to 256 million people spread across 17,000 islands, making network coverage to this point an impossibly expensive task.

Now Google’s Loon balloons will ideally be able to overcome those shortcomings, helping “telecommunications companies extend their networks,” said Mike Cassidy, vice president for Project Loon.

“High in the sky, we can help overcome the difficulties of spreading equipment across an archipelago of 17,000 islands of jungles and mountains, providing connectivity to even the most remote islands,” said Cassidy.

All that to say, since the world is devoid of altruistic philanthropists willing to develop these sorts of innovative solutions to connect the currently unconnected billions, I suppose my objections are moot. As Internet connection becomes a necessity to participate in our global community, it will likely only be the likes of Google and Facebook who can overcome the challenges of connecting—and subsequently enslaving—those who are just waking up to the wonders of the online world.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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