Sri Lanka braves monsoon with Loon broadband balloons

Google scores whole-of-country deal for internet-over-windbags

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Service to launch just weeks before monsoon hits, complete with rain and wind a-plenty Sri Lanka has signed up for broadband services delivered by Google's “Project Loon” broadband balloons.

The Indian ocean nation's minister for foreign affairs, telecommunications and IT Mangala Samaraweera this week took to the stage alongside Google's chief Loony (veep and GoogleX project leader) Mike Cassidy exec to make the announcement that by March 2016 a fleet of broadband-beaming balloons will fill the nation's skies.

Like many developing nations, Sri Lanka has a population hungry for connectivity and leaders keen to deliver it with the hope of realising economic benefits. At present, however, broadband coverage is spotty across the island.

Samaraweera's speech therefore made much of the fact that before long, local telcos won't have to advertise the locales in which their networks perform.

The minister also thinks there are social benefits to be had. Before you read his remarks below, know that Sri Lank endured a long civil war between Sinhalese and Tamil ethnic groups. The 26-year war war came to its end in early 2009. On with the speech ...

”But connectivity is not only about engaging with the world. It can also connect Sri Lankans to each other and to their government. Sinhala and Tamil journalists can now use Google translate to read each other’s articles, helping break down the barriers between our linguistic islands. In fact, in the next few years, simultaneous voice translation between Sinhala and Tamil via smartphones will be the norm. Also, to combat corruption and make government services more accessible to citizens, we plan on placing as many government facilities as possible online.”

Neither Google nor Sri Lanka has revealed just how many balloons will fly, what kind of speeds will be on offer or how local telcos will tap into the signals.

We're going to try to find out, not least because the planned March launch date is just a couple of months before the wet season commences. The monsoon brings high heat, punishing humidity and plenty of rain to the nation. We'll be asking Google just how its balloons can survive those conditions, not least because its tests have been in the rather gentler climes of New Zealand. ®


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