Going ahead with its plan to bring the offline people online, Google is looking to partner with the local Indian telecom companies to begin testing its Project Loon in the country. This was revealed in an interview of Google India MD Rajan Anandan given to the ET.
The actual provisioning of the service is done by a local telco. So, we’re talking to a number of local telcos. We can’t do a Loon pilot without partnering with a local telco,
said Anandan in the interview.
If you do not remember, Project Loon is the project of high altitude balloons which beam down WiFi signals to provide internet access to remote areas in developing countries. Google had first approached the Indian government with the proposal in the year 2014.
Last year, during his India visit, CEO Sundar Pichai had met Indian PM and other government officials for discussing Google’s contribution in Digital India initiative such as Project Loon and installing WiFi at 400 railway stations. The company had indeed got an in principle approval from the authorities on this.
Loon balloons go where they’re needed by rising or descending into a layer of wind blowing in the desired direction of travel. By partnering with Telecommunications companies to share cellular spectrum Google has enabled people to connect to the balloon network directly from their phones and other LTE-enabled devices. The signal is then passed across the balloon network and back down to the global Internet on Earth.
When Google executives explained the feasibility of this program in India, it received appreciation on one hand, while others failed to comprehend how technical and security difficulties would be managed. Moroever, Communications and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had recently told Parliament that Google’s Project Loon will interfere with cellular transmissions of mobile operators in India.
Calling Project Loon as “infrastructure in the sky”, Anandan said that the government has been extremely supportive of the initiative and it was important in India to work through things. India still has around two-thirds of its population who do not have internet access. This has made the country a potential market for many tech companies.
These however puts up a curious question. If Google ultimately is providing a local telco’s internet services across the country, it would only provide internet access to more people, without solving the dreadfully slow internet speeds problem and higher pricing of data.
Facebook also came up with a similar initiative of Free Basics to connect people to the internet, but since it essentially went against the net neutrality principle (not according to Facebook, though), the program was shut down after the intervention of TRAI.
Google’s initiative is not expected to face such problem as it offers WiFi signals to access the internet and not selective access to some websites.
However, Google has not spoken anything yet, on the charges of the service and it is expected to offer the service at nominal rates in rural areas. And the partnership with a local telco, such as BSNL, may further help in the general acceptance of service among people.