project loon

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Google is looking to bring Project Loon, its balloon powered-Internet service, to India and is working with the government for the same, reports the Times of India. Speaking to the publication, Mohammad Gawdat, VP of business Innovation at Google X, said that the technology giant will be looking at commercial format for the project by 2016 which will cover every inch of the Earth and that the company is working closely with governments across the world including India.

Project Loon is a network of balloons which float at about 20 kilometres above in the stratosphere which will help in providing Internet access to the most remote corners of the world. Google has teamed up with telecommunications companies to share cellular spectrum which enables 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. Google had partnered with Australia’s largest telco Telstra to run a pilot of the project with 20 balloons on a part of its 2.6GhZ spectrum.

It’s interesting to note that Vinton Cerf, Google’s chief evangelist and widely considered as one of the fathers of the Internet, held discussions earlier last month with communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on ways to increase Internet penetration in the country as part of the government’s Digital India programme.

Our Take: Telecom partnerships in India

But in India, it will be interesting to see who will partner with Google for Internet services. Remember that Project Loon connects to LTE-enabled devices. So far, 4G LTE services are only provided by Bharti Airtel and Aircel. There’s also Reliance Industries (RIL) with its ambitious 4G rollout plans.

It also remains to be seen who will bear the costs of rolling out these services in India, and whether Google would want to make its rollout mostly about its own services, or more about generic Internet access: Facebook recently did with Reliance  Communications for Internet.org, and with Facebook being provided for free, along with a select number of services for free, violating Net Neutrality. What should we expect from this? Well, this Quartz story titled “Millions of Facebook users have no idea they’re using the internet” offers you an indication.

Remember that Google is no stranger to violations of Net Neutrality in India. It is now a member of the telecom operator association COAI, and has partnered with telecom operators in the past to offer free data for its own services, or higher speeds.

Three rules of Net Neutrality

Rule 1: All sites must be equally accessible: ISPs and telecom operators shouldn’t block certain sites or apps just because they don’t pay them. No gateways should be created, in order to give preferential discovery to one site over another.
Rule 2: All sites must be accessible at the same speed (at an ISP/telco level): This means no speeding up of certain sites because of business deals. More importantly, it means no slowing down (throttling) of some sites.
Rule 3: The cost of access must be the same for all sites (per Kb/Mb or as per data plan): This means no “Zero Rating”. In countries like India, Net Neutrality is more about cost of access than speed of access: all lanes are slow.