Saturday, December 12, 2015

Project Loon Faces Interference in India, for the Moment

Who gets to use spectrum, and concerns about interference from other users, now appears to be an issue for Google’s Project Loon in India.

Project Loon proposes the use of the 700 MHz to 900 MHz spectrum for its downlinks and uplinks, but those frequencies are allocated for mobile phone service.

A concern about potential surveillance is a concern of the Defense ministry.

But the chief obstacle is the objection by the Department of Telecommunications, which notes signal interference could be an issue.

This is not the sort of issue Project Loon would have missed anticipating, especially since Project Loon presently views itself as a backhaul technology working with retail mobile service providers.

In Indonesia, for example, the big mobile companies are partnering with Project Loon for a test of the service, and that is not something they would have done if it was believed there is no way to avoid interference.

In2016, the top three mobile network operators in Indonesia--Indosat, Telkomsel, and XL Axiata--will test Project Loon-- balloons to deliver Long Term Evolution 4G signals across the country.

Sri Lanka might be going further, and reportedly is planning on relying on Project Loon to cover the island for Internet access, starting as early as March 2016. There would seem to be some significant issues to be settled, if that timetable is to be kept.

Unless something new has been developed, Project Loon would beam signals to stationary antennas, much as a fixed wireless network would do. There would be no way to deliver signals directly to a mobile phone using LTE, for example.

So though mobile operators would be logical partners, they are not the only logical partners. Fixed network telcos might arguably be better positioned to serve as on-the-ground sales, installation and support partners.

There also has been confusion about whether the service was to be supplied “for free, or for fee.” Both could be correct conclusions, though it seems likely any “free” services would be limited, both in terms of usage or speed. Think of a program similar to Wi-Fi at public institutions.

It is possible, perhaps likely, that some amount of basic service could be made available “for free.” But it seems highly unlikely that most of the service can be provided that way. Nor would most offers of that sort provide unlimited access or large buckets of usage.

But it seems most likely that most of the service will be supplied at some commercial rate.

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