Google’s internet ballons project hits turbulence in Sri Lanka
Posted on February 16th, 2017

Courtesy The National (Abu Dhabi)

Google’s venture to beam the internet to remote areas of the world via balloon has hit a legal snag in Sri Lanka that could see the project abandoned on the island, a minister said Thursday.

“Project Loon” uses roaming balloons to beam internet coverage and planned to connect Sri Lanka’s 21 million people to the web, even those in remote connectivity black spots.But just a year after testing began in Sri Lanka regulators have been unable to allocate Google a radio frequency for the airborne venture without breaching international regulations.

 The communications minister Harin Fernando said the Geneva-based International Telecommunications Union (ITU) was opposed to Google using the same frequency as Sri Lanka’s public broadcasters to provide its internet.

“It boils down to a legal issue,” Mr Fernando said in Colombo.

“The government as well as Google are lobbying the ITU, but if we fail there’s a risk Google will go to another country that is not bound by these rules.”

 Google’s giant helium-filled balloons act as floating mobile base stations, beaming high-speed internet to areas beyond the reach of ground-based telecommunication towers.

The company has been testing its balloons around the world since 2013, partnering wireless operators such as Vodafone NZ in New Zealand, Telstra in Australia and Telefonica in South America. In 2015, Loon signed a deal to test its internet-beaming balloons with Indonesia’s three largest wireless carriers.

The first of three balloons – which roam the stratosphere at twice the altitude of commercial aircraft – entered Sri Lankan air space a year ago after going airborne in South America.

The government and Google planned a joint venture where Colombo would receive a 25 per cent stake, without any capital investment, for sharing its cellular spectrum with the project.

One of the balloons was found in a Sri Lankan tea plantation after its maiden test flight last year, although authorities described it as a controlled landing.

About one-third of Sri Lankans have regular access to the internet, a figure expected to swell through the Loon project.

Sri Lanka was the first country in South Asia to introduce mobile phones in 1989, and also the regional frontrunner when it unveiled a 4G network three years ago.


One Response to “Google’s internet ballons project hits turbulence in Sri Lanka”

  1. Sirih Says:

    ITU part is a red herring .
    Whole project create more questions than answers.
    Google’s request of asking 700 Mhz band is questionable. At the moment this band is for analog tv Tx. and with digital tv, tx on its way, some of the analog frequency band can be use for LTE mobile area. Problem with Google request is they want this band free and for SL, this is extremely valuable resource since if you auction this, there will be billions of Rs will go to our consolidated revenue.
    Even if the govt. partly own the google venture, why do we give this valuable spectrum free ?
    As you know govt owns part Mobitel but still Mobitel has to pay for the spectrum at the auction .
    Answers are some where else which SL, govt. does not know.
    Google owns a highly specialised future LTE start up that is involved with disruption technology in mobile area. I cannot name the company for legal reasons since I have done work for them. Company name start with L.
    This company create low power base stations that sit on customer premises and use cloud as authentication and management platform and this will undercut existing some proprietary mobile tech. and will integrate LTE with wifi in future.

    I believe SL govt. should be careful and should not give in to google for this blatant theft of a national resource.

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