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Google’s Project Loon gets in-principle nod from the government


Google’s balloon powered Internet service Project Loon has got an in-principle approval from the Indian government for running a pilot in India, reports the Economic Times.

Google chief executive officer Sundar Pichai at an event yesterday had said that the company is trying to convince the government that the solution to its concerns are spectrum sharing. It has encountered similar problems in other countries and managed to convince authorities there.

Earlier this month, telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had expressed concern that Google’s Project Loon will interfere with existing telecom spectrum. The minister was answering a question in the Rajya Sabha and said that the proposed frequency on which Project Loon plans to operate will interfere with telecom spectrum.

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 ET report also added that Project Loon would require spectrum on the 700- 900 Mhz band which is currently occupied by telecom operators and that was the primary concern for the government. The report added that Prasad had also proposed a partnership with state-run telecom operator BSNL.

Implementation in Australia 

In November last year, 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.

MediaNama’s take

We hope that the government can sort out issues regarding spectrum for the implementation of Project Loon. Telecom networks were hit badly in the recent floods in Chennai and operators are still trying to rebuild their operations. A service like Project Loon could help in communications at the time of disasters – man made or natural – and the balloons could be deployed to the affected areas.

The only concern here is that a majority of the Indian population does not have an LTE handset which can catch a signal from Google’s balloons. The project would only gain momentum once more devices can use 4G.

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. 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.

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