Alphabet employees were expected to arrive in Sri Lanka this week to test the balloon’s flight controls and internet speeds, ahead of the scheduled arrival of two other balloons over the next two weeks, said Muhunthan Canagey, chief of Sri Lanka’s Information and Communication Technology Agency.
The balloon over Sri Lanka was launched from South America, while a balloon expected to arrive next week is now off the eastern coast of South Africa, Mr Canagey said.
Alphabet aims to launch balloons into the stratosphere to connect as many as four billion people who now have little or no internet connections. The effort, called Project Loon, is one of the company’s so-called moonshots in its research arm known as X. The company says it is in commercial discussions with telecommunications companies and will test balloons in places such as Sri Lanka and Indonesia this year.
Alphabet says it can control the balloons’ location by changing their altitude to catch wind currents. “The idea is to have enough balloons so as one floats out of your area, there’s another one ready to float into place, handing off the internet connection just like your phone hands off to different cell towers as you drive down the freeway,” X chief Astro Teller said in an online post.
An Alphabet spokeswoman declined to comment further.
The Sri Lankan government said earlier this month that it would take a 25 per cent stake in a joint venture with Alphabet to deliver a high-speed internet service powered by helium-filled balloons, in return for allocating spectrum for the project.
More than a dozen balloons are expected to be launched above Sri Lanka.
The balloons float above commercial-airline flights paths and are barely visible from the ground. They have a lifespan of about 180 days but can be recycled.
Sri Lanka has 20 million people, but only about 3.3 million mobile data connections and 630,000 fixed-line internet subscribers.
Google previously conducted successful tests in New Zealand, California and Brazil.