The challenge of providing adequate Internet service in countries with vast populations that are spread out over large geographical areas is a difficult one. Rich and poor countries alike are dealing with this difficult problem. The task of providing access to the Internet infrastructure is compounded in developing countries. Not only do these countries face the burden of delivering broadband services to a large population that is spread over numerous remote islands and is isolated by mountainous terrain, but also even if the geographic conditions were ideal, the Internet infrastructure is typically under developed and insufficient to meet the growing population’s needs.
In many cases satellites have been utilized to enable developing countries to leapfrog in their Internet infrastructure development. Many developing countries tend to lack much of the traditional terrestrial infrastructure such as cable, fiber and other critical equipment, facilities and resources that have been invested and deployed in the broadband Infrastructure of developed countries over several decades. Satellites provide developing countries with the potential to by pass the expense and resources involved with more typical terrestrial Internet infrastructure development.
However satellite technologies present many disadvantages as well. For example there are line of sight limitations, which makes broadband service over satellites unsuitable for mountainous areas where the rugged terrain gets in the way of the signal. Alternatively the distances that the signal has to travel on satellite systems make them less than ideal for today’s high speed Internet networks.
Google Asia Pacific recently announced a technological solution to the intractable problem of providing Internet access in countries without sufficient existing broadband infrastructure. This technology entitled Project Loon is designed to provide Internet services via high-altitude balloons that act like floating mobile towers in Indonesia. While the planning for Project Loon began over two years ago, it was recently able to announce that Indonesia’s three largest mobile operators – Indosat, Telkomsel and XL Axiata – will begin testing balloon-powered internet services.
Indonesia has the geographic and demographic traits that make it an ideal fit for Google’s Project Loon. For example, it has a population of over 250 million that is spread out over 740,000 square miles and more than 17,000 islands. Moreover its mountainous terrain and large swaths of land covered by jungle create the types of limitations to the provision of sufficient broadband access that Project Loon’s technology is specifically engineered to address.
The introduction of this project should pose numerous benefits for Indonesia. In terms of Internet connectivity Indonesia lags behind many developing nations in Asia and around the world. In a recent study conducted by the Internet Society Indonesia ranks 135th in the world with 15.8 percent internet user penetration. This project should help to improve this ranking. Another benefit is that the project would not be dependent on the time consuming and expensive process of allocating spectrum just for Project Loon. The three participating mobile operators – Indosat, Telkomsel and XL Axiata – agreed to contribute their own stockpiles of spectrum for this project.
By Siddhartha Menon, a Research Developer and Social Media Strategist