Google's Project Loon targets Middle East success

Region could be key beneficiary of experiment to provide web access via hot air balloon, says exec

The Middle East could be a key beneficiary of Google's Project Loon, an experiment to provide internet access to remote areas via a hot air balloon, a Google executive has told Arabian Business.

The innovative company this week announced it had launched 30 hot air balloons over New Zealand's South Island to test its new technology to deliver 3G speeds.

The balloons hover at twice the altitude of commercial aircraft and could spread the Internet at least 40  kilometres, providing access for the first time to countless people, the company said.

The global head of Google's Free Expression, Ross LaJeunesse, said if the project proves to be successful it could have great implications for the Middle East.

"The access issues in the Middle East and New Zealand, in some way, are similar because you have very dispersed populations in vast areas," he told Arabian Business on the sidelines of the international Freedom Online conference in Tunis.

"It's not economical for the normal telco providers to run lines out there because they're never going to make their economic return on that, so that's why you need to get innovative technologies.

"With Project Loon we're thinking about how we may be able to partner with telcos."

LaJeunesse said it was not yet clear what regulatory implications the balloons would have and whether Google would require an operating license.

More than 4 billion of the world's 6billion people do not have access to the Internet.

Government regulation and censorship also impacts on Internet access in the region.

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