The long-running saga of Sri Lanka’s proposed joint venture with Google to implement the latter’s Project Loon service across the country took a fresh twist this month, after the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) suggested it may abandon the plan altogether following as yet unspecified ‘objections’ from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Sri Lankan news site Readme reports that despite the watchdog’s assertion, a number of high-ranking officials suggest Project Loon may still take flight. Wasantha Deshapriya, a secretary at the Ministry of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure, contradicted the TRSCL, claiming that not only is he unaware of the ITU development, but that recently documents were submitted to the regulator requesting suitable LTE-ready spectrum for Project Loon to proceed. Moreover, the CEO at the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA), Muhunthana Canagey, also denied Project Loon had been abandoned, noting it forms a pillar of the government’s vision of building a Digital Sri Lanka.
As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, the Sri Lankan government signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the US search engine giant in July 2015 to deploy Project Loon in order to increase 3G coverage across the country. At the time it was confirmed that the MoU would enable operators to enter into agreements with the floating tower cells, bringing down transmission costs and leading to reductions in the cost of service provision. Project Loon, which utilises unlicensed frequencies in the 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz bands, called for 13 balloons to be deployed to ensure complete LTE coverage across the island, with zero funding required by the state and the promise of download speeds of 10Mbps across Sri Lanka. The first balloon arrived in February 2016 with trials scheduled to commence soon after – centred on Ratmalana Airport as the landing base – and lasting for up to a year.