Google’s balloon-powered high-speed internet service known as “Project Loon” has started testing in Sri Lanka ahead of a planned joint venture with the government.
One of three balloons being used in the trials entered Sri Lankan airspace on Monday, having been launched in South America, said Muhunthan Canagey, the government’s information and communications technology chief.
Project Loon aims to help connect remote regions of the world to the internet and has been trialled in outback Australia and Indonesia.
Canagey said a Google team was expected in Sri Lanka later this week to test flight controls, efficiency and other technical matters.
The government announced earlier this month it would take a 25% stake in the joint venture with Google to deliver a high-speed internet service powered by helium-filled balloons.
Sri Lanka is not investing any capital but will take the stake in return for allocating spectrum for the project. A further 10% of the joint venture would be offered to existing telephone service providers on the island.
Service providers will be able to access higher speeds and improve the quality of their existing service once the balloon project is up and running.
The balloons, once in the stratosphere, will be twice as high as commercial airliners and barely visible to the naked eye. They will have a lifespan of about 180 days, but can be recycled, according to Sri Lankan officials involved in the venture.
Official figures show there are 3.3m mobile internet connections and 630,000 fixed line internet subscribers among Sri Lanka’s more than 20 million population.
Sri Lanka became the first country in South Asia to introduce mobile phones in 1989 and the first to roll out a 3G network in 2004. It was also the first in the region to unveil a 4G network two years ago.