Peruvians have been getting online using Project Loon, the ambitious connectivity project from Google’s parent company, Alphabet.

Project Loon uses tennis court-sized balloons (about 20km above the ground) which contain a small box of equipment to beam internet access to a wide area below. Only small-scale tests of the technology have taken place so far.

Project Loon is in competition with other attempts to provide internet from the skies, including Facebook’s Aquila project which is being worked on in the UK. Project Loon have recently figured out how to use artificial intelligence to ‘steer’ the balloons by raising or lowering them to ride weather streams. This led to balloons being used to connect people in Lima, Chimbote, and Piura. The balloons were launched from the US territory of Puerto Rico before being guided south.

Over the course of three months the balloons were still providing access with users sending over 160GB worth of data (the equivalent of 2 million emails).

The connectivity (roughly covering an area of 40,000 square kilometres) was enabled with the help of Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica, which operates in Peru, and several other organisations who aided in setting up ground stations that enabled the balloons to connect to the internet.

The technology is still in its early stages, the concept still faces a number of challenges, most related to keeping the equipment in the air.

Some have questioned the motive of companies expanding into the developing world with such vigour – particularly over how both Facebook and Project Loon may be bale to collect data that could later be used to sell targeted advertising. (17th May 2017)