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Tuesday September 27th, 2022

Sri Lanka expects Google Loon to increase competition, reduce prices

ECONOMYNEXT – Google’s Project Loon aerial wireless network using balloons Sri Lanka is trying out should create more competition among telecom operators and lead to lower costs and prices, government officials said.

"This will create competition between fibre optic cables, (mobile phone) towers and balloons," Minister of Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure Harin Fernando said.

"As a government we will bring in the latest technology. Competition and market forces will reduce costs and prices," he told a news conference when asked if the Google project will reduce costs for consumers.

The government has signed a one-year deal with the Internet giant to start flight trials of Project Loon,  a research and development project aimed at providing broadband access to remote areas using high-altitude balloons to relay wireless signals.

There will be several Google radar-controlled balloons airborne at the same time to provide uninterrupted coverage, flying at an altitude of 75,000 feet, far above the 35,000 feet cruising height of airliners.

Fernando said the biggest cost of telecommunications operators was base stations, a network of which was needed to provide the widest coverage for subscribers.

"With the Google project, they no longer need to put up base stations. Instead of fixed base stations they can use floating balloons," Fernando said. "In future there would be no need for big investments in telecom towers. The Google balloons can provide coverage for the whole island."

Muhunthan Canagey, Managing Director of the Information and Communications Technology Agency, said the authorities were obliged to introduce new technology that benefit consumers even if there was opposition from existing operators.

"This technology is disruptive technology,” Canagey told the news conference.

"So it’s normal for an industry to fear new technology which will completely revolutionise what has happened for the past 30-40 years, just like the way Uber changed the transportation industry and Pay Pal the financial industry.

"As a government it is important for us to embrace new technology," Canagey said. "We can’t be held back by legacy (carriers) and not allow citizens to access new technology.”

Fernando said they had held talks with local telcos and all except one were supporting the Google Loon project.

"This project will help save costs of mobile phone operators. It will reduce tower costs by one-third," he said.

Canagey said local telecom operators might offer much higher bandwidths when they start competing with Google’s balloons which can cover a bigger area than fixed towers and base station manufacturers will need to lower prices as balloons offer cheaper services.

Canagey said the government intends to bring in a new ecosystem and let market forces start working.(Colombo/Feb2/2016)

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