Sri Lanka has become the first country to support deployment of Google Loon-based Internet access.

The initiative is reportedly going to offer free Internet access across the entire country.

“The entire Sri Lankan island–every village from (southern) Dondra to (northern) Point Pedro–will be covered with affordable high speed internet using Google Loon’s balloon technology,” said Sri Lanka Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera.

Officials also said local ISPs will have access to the balloons, reducing their operational costs.

According to Muhunthan Canagey, head of local authority the Information and Communication Technology Agency, Google is expected to finish sending up the balloons by next March 2016.

The agreement between Google and the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) did not immediately detail any other commercial agreements, such as whether the services will be sold at wholesale to retail ISPs and mobile service providers, and if so, on what terms.

But it will be tough to compete with “free,” if Sri Lanka’s government itself provides free access at speeds comparable to mobile Internet access.
There are 2.8 million mobile Internet subscribers and 606,000 fixed line Internet subscribers among Sri Lanka’s more than 20 million population.

It is not entirely clear what protocols will be supported. Project Loon recently has been working with mobile operators to support Long Term Evolution protocols. If that remains the case for commercial deployment, the whole-nation coverage will occur with uplinks and downlinks from mobile service provider cell sites, using LTE, not the Wi-Fi protocol.