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Google announces expansion of plans to deliver Internet by balloons

Google has announced that their internet-beaming balloons are ready to take off. The balloons will begin hovering in the stratosphere above Indonesia, delivering an internet connection to remote areas.

Google announced an expansion of its 2-year old “Project Loon” on Wednesday. The program aims to deliver online access in regions where most people live offline by transmitting high-speed Internet signals from clusters of balloons floating about 60,000 feet (18,000 meters) above the Earth.

About 250 million people live in Indonesia, which is composed of about 17,000 islands. According to the CIA's estimates, only 42 million have Internet access.

Project Loon is still testing its technology, so there is still no estimate of when it will start selling the Internet service to households and businesses within range of the balloons.

Access to the Internet will be sold through wireless service providers in Indonesia, where there the number of mobile phones - about 319 million - outnumber people.

However, most of those phones don't connect to the Internet either because users can't afford data plans, or more frequently, live in remote or rocky areas where it's impractical or too expensive to install the equipment needed to deliver high-speed Internet access.

Cell towers in the sky

The project is being funded primarily by money that Google makes from digital advertising; however, it recently became part of an independent lab called X that is run by Google's new parent company, Alphabet Inc.

The Indonesian expansion comes after extensive testing in New Zealand, Australia and remote areas in California and Brazil.

If things go according to plan, Project Loon will deploy hundreds of balloons that will serve as cell towers in the sky. At that altitude they will be invisible to the naked eye.

To make it work, the project's engineers must choreograph a high-altitude dance, ensuring that as one balloon drifts out of a targeted territory's Internet-receiving range, another one will float in to fill the void.

According to Google, Project Loon eventually hopes to send its balloons to other unconnected regions in the world, ranging from small villages in Africa to the woods of California.

av/bw (AP, AFP)

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