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ICTA CEO Muhunthan Canagey exchanges the MoU with Mike Cassidy while Minister Mangala Samaraweera and Deputy Ministers, Harsha De Silva, Eran Wickramaratne and Ruwan Wijewardena look on

Sri Lanka’s government and Google on Tuesday signed an agreement to cover the island with 3G internet under ‘Google Loon project’. According to Google Vice President and Project Leader Michael Cassidy, Sri Lanka will become the first country in the world to have Internet access covering the whole country with the government support once the initiative is in full swing.

Project Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, designed to connect people in rural and remote areas, help fill in coverage gaps and bring people back online after disasters.
It is expected to place 13 balloons above Sri Lanka over the next few months and internet service providers will have to connect this network through these ‘floating towers’ which will ultimately reduce their transmission costs.

“Matara covered or Jaffna covered is now history. In a few months we will be able to say Sri Lanka covered,” Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said addressing the signing ceremony.

The project is handled by Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) with the collaboration of former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya who now represents lotus flare, a leading mobile content provider.

“…. Service providers will enter in to agreements with “floating cell towers” that will be shared bringing down transmission costs leading to further reductions in cost of service provision. This should give more space for them to improve technology, content and service. All in all I feel today’s agreement will certainly provide a huge boost to our game plan to create a knowledge based highly competitve social market economy that will help every household achieve their own dreams,” Deputy Minister Dr Harsha de Silva said on his official Facebook page.

The technology
Project Loon balloons float in the stratosphere, twice as high as airplanes and the weather. In the stratosphere, 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. By partnering with Telecommunications companies to share cellular spectrum we’ve enabled people to connect to the balloon network directly from their phones and other LTE-enabled devices. The signal is then passed across the balloon network and back down to the global Internet on Earth.

Where Loon has been
Project Loon began in June 2013 with an experimental pilot in New Zealand, where a small group of Project Loon pioneers tested Loon technology. The results of the pilot test, as well as subsequent tests in New Zealand, California’s Central Valley and in Northeast Brazil, are being used to improve the technology in preparation for the next stages of the project.

How Loon flies
Navigating with the wind
Project Loon balloons travel approximately 20 km above the Earth’s surface in the stratosphere. Winds in the stratosphere are stratified, and each layer of wind varies in speed and direction. Project Loon uses software algorithms to determine where its balloons need to go, then moves each one into a layer of wind blowing in the right direction. By moving with the wind, the balloons can be arranged to form one large communications network.

Stratosphere
Situated on the edge of space, between 10 km and 60 km in altitude, the stratosphere presents unique engineering challenges: air pressure is 1% that at sea level, and this thin atmosphere offers less protection from UV radiation and dramatic temperature swings, which can reach as low as -80°C. By carefully designing the balloon envelope to withstand these conditions, Project Loon is able to take advantage of the stratosphere’s steady winds and remain well above weather events, wildlife and airplanes.

How Loon is designed
Envelope
The inflatable part of the balloon is called a balloon envelope. A well-made balloon envelope is critical for allowing a balloon to last around 100 days in the stratosphere. Loon’s balloon envelopes are made from sheets of polyethylene plastic, and they measure fifteen meters wide by twelve meters tall when fully inflated.

When a balloon is ready to be taken out of service, gas is released from the envelope to bring the balloon down to Earth in a controlled descent. In the unlikely event that a balloon drops too quickly, a parachute attached to the top of the envelope is deployed.

Solar panels
Each balloon’s electronics are powered by an array of solar panels. The solar array is a flexible plastic laminate supported by a light-weight aluminum frame. It uses high efficiency monocrystalline solar cells. The solar array is mounted at a steep angle to effectively capture sunlight on short winter days at higher latitudes. The array is divided into two sections facing in opposite directions, allowing us to capture energy in any orientation as the balloons spin slowly in the wind. The panels produce approximately 100 Watts of power in full sun, which is enough to keep Loon’s electronics running while also charging a battery for use at night. By moving with the wind and charging in the sun, Project Loon is able to power itself using entirely renewable energy sources

Electronics
A small box containing the balloon’s electronics hangs underneath the inflated envelope, like 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.

Connectivity
Each balloon can provide connectivity to a ground area about 40 km in diameter using a wireless communications technology called LTE. To use LTE, Project Loon partners with telecommunications companies to share cellular spectrum so that people will be able to access the Internet everywhere directly from their phones and other LTE-enabled devices. Balloons relay wireless traffic from cell phones and other devices back to the global Internet using high-speed links.

Continuous service
Project Loon began with a pilot test in June 2013, when thirty balloons were launched from New Zealand’s South Island and beamed Internet to a small group of pilot testers. The pilot test has since expanded to include a greater number of people over a wider area. Looking ahead, Project Loon will continue to expand the pilot, with the goal of establishing a ring of uninterrupted connectivity at latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, so that pilot testers in these latitudes can receive continuous service via balloon-powered Internet.

(Courtesy: http://www.google.com/loon/how/ )

Michael Cassidy’s meeting with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe attended by Minister Mangala Samaraweera and ICTA officials | (Pictures taken from Facebook)
Michael Cassidy’s meeting with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe attended by Minister Mangala Samaraweera and ICTA officials | (Pictures taken from Facebook)