One of Google's balloons in a hangar prior to deployment

Google balloons to offer internet access to Indonesians

Google is about to launch its internet-beaming balloons into orbit over Indonesia in order to boost online access in the country.

The Project Loon programme was first tested in 2013 in New Zealand using thirty 12m-tall solar-powered balloons designed to reach the stratosphere.

They are designed to travel at speeds between 8 and 30km/h and are guided by software algorithms to move up and down the stratospheric layers to control their direction.

They contain equipment that broadcasts 3G-like wireless speeds to ground-based antennas, which spreads the signal further to users.

About 250 million people live in Indonesia, which is composed of about 17,000 islands, although only 42 million have internet access, according to the CIA's estimates.

The project is primarily funded by money that Google makes from digital advertising, although it was recently assigned to an independent lab called X that is run by Google's new parent company, Alphabet.

Alphabet hopes that Project Loon will be able to bring around 100 million currently unconnected users internet access. It could also enrich Google by expanding the potential audience that can query its search engine, watch videos on YouTube, correspond through Gmail and click on digital ads.

"The emotional distance of the world is shrinking, thanks to the communications we enjoy today," said Google co-founder Sergey Brin who oversees the X lab as Alphabet's president.

He hopes that the technology could eventually create millions of jobs around the world and raise the standard of living for impoverished people who would be able to access educational facilities online.

Project Loon is still testing its technology, so there is still no estimate when it will start selling the internet service to households and businesses within range of the balloons.

The internet access will be sold through wireless service providers in Indonesia, where the number of mobile phones - about 319 million - outnumber people.

Most of those phones do not currently connect to the Internet because users cannot afford data plans or live in remote or rocky terrains where it is impractical or too expensive to install the equipment needed to deliver high-speed Internet access. Google hopes that Project Loon will be able to overcome these problems.

Eventually, the project hopes to expand to other unconnected regions in the world, ranging from small villages in Africa to the woods of California.

Google internet balloons infographic

Google balloons infographic  

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