Google recently announced that it will begin a new initiative in Indonesia to jump start connectivity called Project Loon. By partnering with the top three mobile networks in Indonesia - Telkomsel, XL Axiata, and Indosat - Google is working to deliver LTE connections to remote areas via giant helium balloons that will broadcast signals in areas where fixed-line service isn’t available. Currently, only 29% of Indonesians have access to the internet, and with a population of around 225 million people spread across thousands of islands, Indonesia has struggled in building an encompassing network. With the Google balloons, people on the ground will be able to get online at speeds up to 10 megabits per second through their mobile devices.
Over the last few years, Google has been an important source of increased connectivity in Asia. In 2012, Google launched the Google Bus in Bangladesh where a team of Google internet specialists made a twelve month journey and traveled to 35 locations in Bangladesh to lead seminars demonstrating the power of the internet to college students. The company also launched Google Campus in Seoul, South Korea in early 2015, which provides an environment where entrepreneurs can develop tech startups with assistance from experienced professionals. Entrepreneurs in the program have access to a device library to test apps across a variety of different devices and operating systems and can attend workshops on design and product development to help jumpstart their businesses. Additionally, in late 2015, Google opened the Kid’s Maker studio in Seoul to offer kids and their parents a wide variety of workshops that encourage innovation and creativity.
While Google is spearheading connectivity and innovation projects in Asia, other American companies are working on bringing online services to the region. Warner Brothers and Sony Pictures are teaming up with telecommunication groups and entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia to bring a Netflix-style streaming service to countries in the region, and have capped subscription fees at $3 dollars a month in an effort to encourage enrollment and simultaneously curb pirating of media there. Additionally, US firms such as Facebook and Qualcomm have partnered with other global tech firms to provide free internet service to India via Internet.org.
Unlike elsewhere in Asia, Google has struggled with access to the Chinese market, as some of its key online services like Gmail and its search engine have been periodically blocked by Chinese authorities. One way the company may gain more of a foothold there is through a new partnership with Huawei, the Chinese company building the latest Nexus 6p smartphone handset. Whether or not this will improve Google’s market share among Chinese internet users, however, remains to be seen.
Raveena Ugale is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a Senior at the George Washington University.