Alphabet Inc’s X research division said on Thursday that the Andhra Pradesh government would buy its newly developed technology that has the potential to provide high-speed wireless internet to millions of people without laying cable.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the agreement, which begins next year, would see 2,000 boxes installed as far as 20 kilometers (12 miles) apart on posts and roofs to bring a fast internet connection to populated areas. The idea is to create a new backbone to supply service to cellphone towers and Wi-Fi hotspots, endpoints that users would then access.
The agreement is an outgrowth of X’s Project Loon, which on several occasions has beamed cellphone service to Earth from a network of large balloons. The balloons link directly to smartphones but are meant for rural areas with a low population density, according to X. Alphabet, which owns Google, and other online service providers view increasing internet accessibility in developing countries as crucial to maintaining their fast-growing businesses.
Andhra Pradesh had nearly 15 million high-speed internet subscribers as of last December, according to a report by India’s telecom regulator. The state wants to connect an additional 12 million households by 2019, Alphabet said. X plans to deploy free space optical technology, which transmits data through light beams at up to 20 gigabits per second between the rooftop boxes. There would be enough bandwidth for thousands of people to browse the Web simultaneously through the same cellphone tower, X said.
Researchers have said such systems hold promise in areas where linking cellphone towers to a wired connection is expensive and difficult. But the technology has not taken off because poor weather or misalignment between the boxes can weaken the connection.
Baris Erkmen, who is leading the effort inside X, said his team is “piloting a new approach” to overcome the challenges, but he did not specify the software and hardware advancements. X plans to have a small team based in Andhra Pradesh next year to help roll out the technology.