Google's Project Loon Will Bring Internet to 100 Million Indonesians

Alphabet, Google's new parent company, has announced that it is partnering with four Indonesian wireless carriers to test its internet balloon initiative.

Mike Cassidy, the project's chief, said that the testing—to be carried out in partnership with PT Indosat, PT Telekomunikasi Selular, and PT XL Axiata—will begin next year, The Wall Street Journal reports. Alphabet has already partnered on tests with Telstra in Australia, Vodafone in New Zealand and Telefónica in South America.

Google say they hope the initiative will provide an internet connection to 100 million Indonesian people. Currently, only about one in three people are able to access the web and Google says that connections are often slow.

Named using the last four letters of the word 'balloon,' and denoting the project's apparent craziness, 'Project Loon' will involve launching huge balloons into the stratosphere from where they can beam high-speed and reliable internet to antennas on the ground in remote parts of the world.

The balloons travel 12 miles above the earth's surface and can only be controlled to go up and down. However, using wind data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Google algorithms can manoeuvre the balloons into wind currents that help them to travel.

"Project Loon balloons float in the stratosphere, twice as high as airplanes and the weather," Google explain. " In the stratosphere, there are many layers of wind, and each layer of wind varies in direction and speed. Loon balloons go where they're needed by rising or descending into a layer of wind blowing in the desired direction of travel."

According to tech website, The Verge, Google's CEO Sundar Pichai spoke about the project during a conference in March this year. "[It] started about four years ago as an experimental idea. When you think about it, it sounds a bit crazy," he said.

In the same article Cassidy, the tech entrepreneur and aerospace engineering graduate chosen to head up Project Loon, told The Verge, "The first thing we did was take a router and flew it on a weather balloon up to 10 kilometers to see if we could still get a signal. That part worked."

From there, Project Loon kept evolving and with each balloon sent up, the lifespan of its flights were extended. The balloon is in fact one balloon inside another. "The inflatable part of the balloon is called a balloon envelope," Google say on its website. "Loon's balloon envelopes are made from sheets of polyethylene plastic, and they measure fifteen meters wide by 12 meters tall when fully inflated."

"In the early days, the balloons would last five or seven or 10 days. Now we have had balloons that have lasted as long as 187 days," Cassidy told the BBC on Wednesday. "[We need] about 300 balloons or so to make a continuous string around the world," he explained.

"We hope next year to build our first continuous ring around the world, and to have some sort of continuous coverage for certain regions. And if all goes well after, then after that we will start rolling out our first beta commercial customers."

Facebook have also been testing their efforts at becoming an internet provider. Earlier this month CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company will launch a satellite next year that will provide Internet access to remote parts of Africa.