The visit of Chennai-born Google CEO Sundar Pichai might have just pushed Google’s Project Loon, a balloon-based project to provide internet for all, out of regulatory traffic in the country and turned a reluctant government into a partner.
“In-principle we agree for a pilot project for Project Loon. We are quite open on the project and BSNL will partner with Google for it,” Union Communications and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said after a meeting with Pichai.
Prasad also said his department would consult the ministry of civil aviation and other security agencies for clearance of the project and issues surrounding it.
On December 11, the telecommunications minister had told Parliament that the Centre was apprehensive about Project Loon interfering with cellular transmission and create technical glitches – a charge rejected by the technology giant.
“The proposed frequency band in Google’s Loon Project is being used for cellular operations and it will lead to interference with cellular transmissions,” Prasad had said.
But Google has always maintained that Loon will not create problems for telcos.
“We’re confident we can address any questions any government officials have about cellular interference, and are looking forward to working with them to conduct initial tests and validate our non-interference analysis. We have already successfully tested integrating the Loon system into the infrastructure of several major telcos,” Marion Croak, Project Loon head and international vice president of access strategy and emerging markets at Google, said.
The firm could operate a balloon network on shared spectrum in a way that would enhance coverage without impacting existing operations, just like a telco can roll out new towers to expand coverage without causing interference, she said.
Croak was among the nine other international vice presidents on an India visit with the Google CEO.
In addition, Pichai, before meeting the telecom minister, had also said the company had “tonnes of data” from its Loon tests in Sri Lanka and Indonesia to demonstrate there was no such interference and would be sharing it with the government.
But several telcos are not happy with the decision to allow Project Loon to run a pilot. According to government sources, many telecom firms have written to the ministry saying Loon’s operation will cause technical glitches that would lead to impediments in network services.