Internet giant Google announced its first Loon partnership after forging an agreement with Indonesia’s three largest mobile operators – Telkomsel, Indosat and XL Axiata – to deliver 4G coverage to remote areas of the country’s 17,000 islands from balloons.

Executives from the operators were in Mountain View, California, where they signed an agreement with Google to conduct pilot tests in Indonesia, which will run for 12 months before rolling out as a full commercial product.

Loon is an ambitious project to use helium-filled balloons to provide internet connectivity, and has so far been tested by operators such as Telefonica, Telstra and Vodafone. It uses high altitude balloons that fly freely 20km above the earth’s surface, serving as floating mobile phone towers.

Google said earlier in the month it has “almost perfected” its Loon balloon technology, with the first deal with operators set to be announced “very soon”.

Wael Fakharany, regional business lead for Google, said at GSMA Mobile 360 Africa that the response from operators has been very positive and it is working closely with them as strategic partners.

“The operators control the distribution, marketing, OSS, BSS, CRM – the customer relationship is with the telcos. We are just the infrastructure provider,” he said.

“There is a viable commercial business model and is based on skin-in-the-game, sharing costs and revenue with operators for completely untouched potential,” he continued.

Project VP Loon Michael Cassidy (pictured far left) said Indonesia is the perfect fit for Project Loon and the tests represent an important step towards bringing Indonesians online, and “together, we hope to reach the tens of millions of people who don’t currently have access to an Internet connection”.

XL president director Dian Siswarini (centre) said the ease of getting information access is one of the key factors in driving the digital era. “XL sees an opportunity to address those challenges with Project Loon for Indonesia.”

Indonesia, a country of 254 million, has more than 310 million mobile connections, but only 30 per cent of those are mobile broadband connections, according to GSMA Intelligence. And 3G/4G users accounted for just 16 per cent of the country’s unique subscribers in Q3, up from 14.5 per cent in Q1.

Telkomsel, Indosat and XL account for 81 per cent of the country’s total mobile connections.