Saturday, August 22, 2015

Loon for Siri Lanka

We have all heard about the Project Loon.

What do the most of us know? Well… it’s something to do with internet and balloons, and it’s coming to Sri Lanka! Yup spot on.

And there were some humorous political talk on the subject (They should prohibit that Gonwansha on public media!! At least for the sake of science) This is a post intended to bust the myths and give a very very simple idea on what the Loon is all about.

Project Loon is a network of balloons. As per Google, following are the main intentions of the project that did their first pilot test just 2 years back, in 2013.

  • Connect people in rural and remote areas
  • Help fill coverage gaps
  • Bring people back online after disasters

Each balloon can provide connectivity to a ground area around 40 km in diameter (roughly 1250km2) using the wireless communications technology, LTE. Balloons make a network up in the sky and connect the rural subscribers and relay wireless traffic from cell phones and other devices back to the global Internet using high-speed links. Loon can’t operate alone. They have to partner with local telcos who own licensed cellular spectrum.

Large areas with low subscriber density that are too costly to be covered by the other existing means can be covered by Loon.

A Loon balloon looks like a large jelly fish. The inflatable part of the balloon is called a balloon envelope. Google engineers were challenged with air leaks that affect the duration a balloon can last in the sky and a lot of work had to go in to the design of the envelope. Currently it can survive around 100 days in the air.

A small box containing the balloon’s electronics hangs underneath the inflated envelope, similar to the basket carried by a hot air balloon.
This box contains circuit boards that control the system, radio antennas to communicate with other balloons and with Internet antennas on the ground, and lithium ion batteries to store solar power so the balloons can operate throughout the night.
Electronics are powered by an array of solar panels. The solar array is a flexible plastic laminate supported by a light-weight aluminum frame.

But nothing is holding the balloons right? Won’t they just float away with the wind, leaving us wondering “Where have all the balloons gone?”
This is where the Google smarty-pants have come up with a smart design. The balloons are floating in stratosphere, twice as high as airplanes and the weather (approximately 20 km above the Earth’s surface). Here there are many layers of wind, and each layer of wind varies in direction and speed. Loon balloons go where they’re needed by rising or descending into a layer of wind blowing in the desired direction of travel.

What kind of benefit will Loon offer to Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka is an island with an area of 65,610 km2, less than half the size on New York. If we’re going to get all around “balloon-coverage” we’d need 52 balloons.

However the fact to remember is that we are already a technologically advanced nation  (J Jwith a wide broad band coverage and world’s lowest mobile broadband rates (Someone should put that in tourist brochures, Come to SL and enjoy dirt cheap internet while basking in sun!)

In SL 80% of the population has broadband coverage (Voice coverage is 100%), considering all telco operators. The remaining 20% live scattered in very rural areas and their internet requirements are questionable to say the least. When it comes to the area, around 60% has broadband coverage.

Will those of us, who are already covered, get any additional benefit from the project? Speed, rates, congestion solutions may be? The answer is “no, not really”.

If that is the case, there is a question of why. Why Loon for Sri Lanka?

It does help place the country with some good names, Google, latest technology etc. Helps build the brand value of the country as a whole and also of the telco providers who join hands with the project. Sri Lanka is already featured in many news articles, forums with the initial plans made public. It will help build network, make friends and hopefully pave the way for some more good things to come our way in technological fronts.


  1. Good one ! Yes we are having cheapest Internet connection but it is really difficult to satisfy with speed and reliability of the connection so hope Google loon will give some good hope for everyone.

    1. Thanks Thimira. See the common reply below.

  2. Good article on Google Loon Kalhari. But, one question :) Can Google Loon address the solution that the poor back-bone we are connected? Google Loon will connect more users to the mesh, but is n't it slowing down the speed more?

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Another few questions to add. Will it be fast as LTE we enjoy most parts of Sri Lanka now. Do we get internet when there are heavy clouds?

  5. Another few questions to add. Will it be fast as LTE we enjoy most parts of Sri Lanka now. Do we get internet when there are heavy clouds?

  6. With the current technology and bandwidth limitations the best Loon can provide would be 1Mbps. We cannot expect it to improve the current speeds, specially in urban areas where we get better speeds without Loon. Yes, it's true we enjoy much better speeds with LTE currently, but what LTE can deliver largely depends on the available bandwidth. In SL with too many operators grabbing pieces of the spectrum pie, it's questionable what can be shared with Loon.

    In addition, even though it's true that a balloon cover 20km Radius area, one has to wonder what'd the capacity it can cater to. From what I hear it's not too much. This explains why the project is targeting rural areas with a few subs scattered here and there. It's never intended for urban areas.

    Loon is immune to certain issues faced by ground stations, for example power failures. This could help some rural areas that may already have coverage with poor quality due to infrastructure issues.

    And regarding clouds, yes the RF signals do get attenuated by clouds, but to which extent, not really sure.

    (Information verified by the telco guy at home :) )