JAKARTA, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Google announced Wednesday a plan to deliver high-speed Internet connectivity to remote areas of Indonesia using helium balloons.
The effort, dubbed Project Loon, involves a partnership between Google and three Indonesian Internet service providers -- Telkomsel, Axiata and Inmost -- that will deliver LTE connections to places where fixed line service is unavailable.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin told spectators at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. that although "occassionally" leaving the reach of communications infrastructure is "healthy for all of us," being unable to communicate with others due to a lack of Internet connectivity on a daily basis is "a real disadvantage."
Research firm eMarketer says 29 percent of Indonesians have Internet access, and slow access at that. Connectivity is further hindered by a thinly spread population across thousands of islands, complicating underwater cable construction and forcing locals to rely on Internet delivered by satellite. Satellite installations are too costly for certain communities.
Google and its project partners will spend 12 months testing the helium balloons prior to rolling out a final product. Mobile operators will bill customers and Google will be solely responsible for constructing the balloons. Users with a mobile device will be able to connect and experience speeds of up to 10 megabits per second.
However, only 23 percent of the country's population owns smartphones, so many people may remain disenfranchised.
Project Loon leader Mike Cassidy said "many hundreds of balloons" floating approximately 12 miles above the ground will be needed to cover the country. Each balloon will provide Internet service up to 24 miles from its position.
The country's largest telecommunications company, Telekomunikasi -- which is not working on the project with Google -- criticized the company's effort, saying it undermines its own work in fiber-optic networking.
Project Loon was originally shown in New Zealand in June 2013 by the innovative Google X division. Companies in Sri Lanka and Australia have also invested in the technology.