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Sri Lanka to start Google Project Loon balloon trials this month

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has signed a one-year deal with Google to start flight trials of Project Loon, a research and development project of the Internet giant aimed at providing broadband access to remote areas using high-altitude balloons.

“Increasing Internet access will give a fillip to economic growth,” Minister of Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure Harin Fernando said.

Equipment for the project has already arrived and Google expects to start trials later this month using Ratnalana airport for landing tests, he told a news conference.

Google has said Project Loon using balloons placed in the stratosphere to create an aerial wireless network with high speeds as fast as 4G will enable Internet access that’s faster, easier and cheaper.

Sri Lanka’s government will not have to invest any money in the project and its contribution will be to provide spectrum for which it will get a 25 percent stake in a company to be set up with Google, Fernando said.

“The government will retain the rights to spectrum because spectrum will be given by the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission.”

Sri Lanka’s top telecos have been offered a 10 percent shareholding of the company, Fernando said.

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

Fernando said only 26 percent of Sri Lankans use the internet and that studies have shown giving greater access is one of the easiest ways to increase economic growth.

A 10 percent increase in the proportion of a country’s population that’s connected adds 1.2 – 1.3 percentage points to economic growth, he said.





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