Google began Project Loon to find ways to provide reliable internet access to users in remote areas that aren't served by terrestrial networks.
It's now announced that it will launch "many" balloons 20,000 metres above the Indonesian islands, with the help of three local internet providers: Telkomsel, Axiata and Inmost.
Earlier this year, Mike Cassidy, the Google engineer in charge of the project, hinted that the company was near to producing and launching thousands of balloons.
"At first it would take us 3 or 4 days to tape together a balloon," Cassidy said in a video. "Today, through our own manufacturing facility, the automated systems can get a balloon produced in just a few hours. We're getting close to the point where we can roll out thousands of balloons."
Trials are also underway with Telstra in Australia, Telefonica in Latin America and with Vodafone in New Zealand, where the video appears to have been largely shot. Maps tracking the path of balloons over the country are seen at several points in the video.
At a European conference in March, a Google executive said the balloons were staying aloft for up to six months at a time.
But everything that goes up must come down. Cassidy said the company has developed a system to predict where they will land and to retrieve them as well as a reliable launch system.
"In the beginning, it was all we could do to launch one balloon a day. Now with our automated crane system, we can launch dozens of balloons a day for every crane we have," he said.
In the video, a Vodafone New Zealand representative says that Loon "allows cell phone companies and Internet companies to provide Internet to communities that don't have it" -- an indication that the Loon service will be offered through existing commercial providers rather than direct from Google.
"Anyone with a smartphone anywhere in the world will be able to get Internet access," said Cassidy.
He added the balloons have also flown in arctic and tropical regions.
"We're getting close to the point when we can bring the Internet to people around the world," he said.
To get access to the internet from the balloons, Indonesian islanders just need a mobile phone or device. They should expect speeds of up to 10 megabits a second, Google said. Project Loon will spend a year testing the technology with the internet providers before a commercial launch and have yet to set any tariffs, Cassidy said.
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