GOOGLE HAS announced it will conduct the first commercial trial of its long-awaited Project Loon internet service.
The programme was launched as one of the first experiments in bringing more remote areas of the world online for the first time by planting transceivers in solar-powered weather balloons the size of a tennis court.
In around three weeks, Kenya will be the first field test of the service as part of a trial with Telkom Kenya, bringing 4G to remote villages at ‘market rates'. Whether that's what you and we would call ‘market rates' isn't quite clear yet.
Kenyan authorities have confirmed that they will sign off the final permissions shortly.
Up to now, Project Loon has been a reactive service, flying in (as it were) to restore access in areas affected by natural disasters such as Puerto Rico and Peru. Now we've reached commercial testing, there are other countries looking with interested eyes as to how this pans out. There are reports of other African networks, as well as a Kuwaiti carrier waiting to see if this is the approach they've been waiting for.
It's not all plain… erm… flying though, many countries' carriers including Indonesia, New Zealand and France have burst their bubble saying that not only is Project Loon not ready for mass roll out but that it never will be. One reason cited is that users could still lose internet access in the event of a strong breeze, the type that tall-INQer Roland Moore-Colyer would blow over in.
Add to that a lawsuit over theft of the Loon intellectual property from a military comms provider and things are still less than breezy for the Alphabet subsidiary.
In the early days of testing, Project Loon caused a first-responder alert in New Zealand after someone spotted a fallen balloon and mistook it for a shipwreck. μ
*to fill it, that is
Bad for shareholders, mildly good for the planet
YouTube on the Tube
Claims that it hasn't ever actually worked