Google has notched up its first national deployment of Loon, signing a deal with the Sri Lankan government to deliver internet access across the country.
Sri Lanka on Wednesday announced it intends to become the first nation in the world to offer universal internet access thanks to the deal with Google, which will see the company provide connectivity using its Loon air balloons.
Loon, one of the company's loftier projects, was originally part of Google's Project X, launching as a pilot in 2013 after two years in the lab. Google is aiming to create a ring of "uninterrupted connectivity" around a certain latitude of the southern hemisphere.
So far it's tested Loon in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, New Mexico, and New Zealand. Ultimately Google hopes to deliver Loon's LTE-powered access to two-thirds of the world's population through local mobile network operators.
Mangala Samaraweer, the foreign minister of Sri Lanka and its IT minister, said he was "proud to declare that we are at the cusp of a reclaiming our heritage of being connected to each other and connected to the world. In a few months we will truly be able to say: Sri Lanka. Covered."
That means at some point the island nation, which has a population of about 20 million, should have access to high-speed mobile internet. It could bring a considerable change to the nation's comms landscape, which, as AFP noted, has just 2.8 million mobile internet connections and 606,000 fixed line subscribers.
Since Google will be working with local operators, Loon-delivered access won't be free to users. However, besides patching up internet black spots in the country, the Loon rollout is expected to improve the quality of broadband services and lower their cost.
Muhunthan Canagey, a Sri Lankan tech entrepreneur and head of the local ICT agency, told AFP that Google is expected to launch the necessary Loon balloons by next March.
Canagey, who signed the deal with Michael Cassidy, a Google vice president, added that he expected the cost of connectivity to come down.