Sri Lanka plans to take a 25 per cent stake in Google’s Project Loon in the country in exchange for the spectrum the government will allocate for the project.
Telecoms Minister Harin Fernando said Google has imported the giant helium-filled balloons and other equipment needed to carry out tests, which are expected to start this month and could take up to a year, IBN Live reported.
Loon is an ambitious project to use balloons to provide high-speed 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.
The minister said 10 per cent of the joint venture, which aims to extend internet coverage to the entire island, would also be offered to the country’s telecoms service providers. He noted that ISPs support the project and that competition would lead to lower tariffs, IBN Live said.
Sri Lanka’s mobile broadband penetration is 38 per cent, with 3G connections accounting for the vast majority of that, according to GSMA Intelligence. Only two operators – Dialog Axiata and Mobitel – offer 4G service with just 44 per cent population coverage and less than a million users. 3G networks cover 90 per cent of the population, with 9.8 million connections.
Google said in October it has “almost perfected” its balloon technology. The same month it 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.