Google is using balloons to bring Internet access to Indonesia

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With the fourth-largest population on the planet and a rapidly developing economy, Indonesia could very well be the next China or India in terms of explosive Internet and smartphone adoption, but the country has to face an obstacle that China and India don’t: it’s population is scattered across more than 17,000 islands. Being such a massive archipelago makes for some unique infrastructure problems, especially when trying to provide Internet service, which makes it the perfect place for Google to use its Project Loon balloons. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Project Loon is Google’s wacky initiative that’s supposed to use balloons to provide Internet access to people in places like Indonesia, and that’s exactly what the company is working on doing.

How do you connect a country made up of 17,000 islands to the internet? That’s the huge infrastructure challenge faced by Indonesia, and one that Google hopes to address using its high altitude ‘Project Loon’ balloons. The Silicon Valley giant has partnered with three Indonesian internet service providers – Telkomsel, Axiata and Inmost – to deliver LTE connectivity to remote areas via clusters of giant helium balloons to places where fixed-line service aren’t available. It’s part of the the company’s plan to help connect some of the billions of people around the world who remain offline. “Indonesia is the perfect fit for Project Loon,” said Mike Cassidy, project leader for Loon, speaking at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View in front of a fully inflated balloon. “Occasionally getting out of communications range is healthy for all of us,” added Google co-founder Sergey Brin, “but if it’s part of your daily life and you don’t have access to the information and the ability to communicate with people important to you that’s a real disadvantage.” According to eMarketer, only 29% of Indonesians have access to the internet and connection speeds are slow, largely thanks to challenging geography and a thinly spread population of around 255 million people, which makes it expensive to build a network using underwater cables. Until now, satellite-delivered internet access has been the only option for many – although the satellite dish installation and data costs can be prohibitively expensive for poorer communities.

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