After months of silence, yesterday we finally got some news about Project Loon in Sri Lanka. The news was that Sri Lanka might abandon all plans to implement Google’s Project Loon in Sri Lanka. The reason for this being that Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) receiving objections from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). But since this statement went out, things have gotten complicated – to say the least.
The journey of Project Loon in Sri Lanka
In case you’re lost, let’s take a journey back to 2015. On the 28th of July 2015, The ICTA and Google signed a MoU. This was when it was first announced that Google would be bringing Project Loon to Sri Lanka. Project Loon is an initiative by Google that aims to ensure that everyone has internet access. To do so, they would launch a few balloons into the sky. These balloons would be equipped with hardware capable of directing and distributing LTE signals back to Earth. In short, these balloons would be floating cell towers.
The initial plan, which we learned from Muhunthan Cangey – CEO of ICTA, called for 13 such balloons to come to Sri Lanka. These 13 balloons would ensure there was complete LTE coverage across the island. And all this would have been done without a cent of public money being spent on the project. Once the plan was implemented, you’d have found download speeds of 10Mbps across the island. Additionally, the plan also called for a small limited internet connection available free of charge for every citizen of Sri Lanka.
Fast forward to February 2016 and we saw the first balloon arrive. With the arrival of this balloon, the trials were set to commence with the Ratmalana airport acting as a landing base. Two months later, we learned about Rama. Rama is the neutral intermediary that allows telecom operators to obtain access to the Loon balloons and provides the software to handle billing with other services. Afterward, we learned that the relevant spectrum had been identified for the tests.
And here we are today
Fast forward to today and you’ll find a bunch of contradicting statements being made by the parties involved in Project Loon’s implementation in Sri Lanka. The first message is by the TRCSL, which as we mentioned above, states that Sri Lanka might abandon all plans to implement Project Loon in Sri Lanka. The reason for this being that it has received objections from the International Telecommunication Union. Here’s where it starts to get confusing.
Wasantha Deshapriya – Secretary at the Ministry of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure stated that he was unaware of such developments. He went on to state that a cabinet paper was submitted earlier this week regarding Project Loon. This cabinet paper requested TRCSL to allocate the identified spectrum necessary for Project Loon to proceed. Speaking with ReadMe, Wasantha shared that the Ministry was now discussing plans regarding Project Loon.
Google Loon not abandoned as reported by some media. @icta_srilanka official stand is that such innovation will be fostered under digital LK
— Muhunthan Canagey (@mcanagey) December 7, 2016
Meanwhile, Muhunthana Canagey – CEO of ICTA speaking to ReadMe, firmly stated that Project Loon had not been abandoned. ICTA he said, believes that Project Loon and other initiatives under the government’s vision of building a Digital Sri Lanka will foster innovation. This is why ICTA will not be abandoning Project Loon. Muhunthan further stated that ICTA has already done its part by having found the necessary frequency. Once it has been allocated by the TRCSL, then Project Loon’s test can proceed.
All this begs an important question
What’s happening with Project Loon? Right now, we really don’t know. The Ministry of Telecommunications & Digital Infrastructure is currently discussing its plans about it. Meanwhile, we tried to get a comment from the TRCSL. However, both the Director General and the Chairman of the TRCSL were unavailable for comment. From the looks of things, one could say that there is a miscommunication between the government bodies. And that is scary because we talk about building data centers and putting tablets in schools, but we can’t seem to be capable of even sending a few balloons up into the sky. As the story unfolds, we’ll be sure to update this article.