Google to partner telcos for Loon: Pichai

Our Bureau | Updated on January 22, 2018 Published on December 16, 2015



For many carriers, it can supplement areas where they don’t have coverage, says CEO

Sundararajan Pichai, first interviewed at Google on the April fool’s day of 2004. The internet company had just announced the launch of Gmail so when he got asked about the product at the interview, he wasn’t sure if it was a fool’s joke. It was not until the fifth round of the interview, when someone actually showed him the product, Pichai realised that he was witnessing the beginning of a profound shift in how things were going to be on the web.

Pichai was able to answer all questions on Gmail in the interviews that followed and got a job offer. “Until then Larry (Larry Page, Google co-founder) used to interview personally but I went in at a time when he just couldn’t do it anymore. I got into Google because Larry didn’t interview me,” Pichai said while sharing his initial experience with a group of Editors in New Delhi.

The Chennai-born, IIT grad has come a long way over the last 10 years to become the CEO of the internet company. Pichai shared his views on a wide range of issues at the Editors’ roundtable. Excerpts:

What is the status of Project Loon? Recently, there was a statement made by the Indian IT Minister that Loon may not work due to interference with cellular frequencies.

 We have had many meetings with the government about Loon. We have been testing in other countries like Indonesia. We have tons of data to show that it doesn’t cause interference. The foundation is that we partner with carriers (telecom operators). It’s early days and we are following through the process. For many carriers, it can supplement areas where they don’t have coverage. These are like floating towers. We are in a stage where we are showing things like how long we can keep the balloons up, how long we can control them and how accurately we can move them. 

Facebook is also experimenting with drones. How does the Loon compare with that?

We have been thinking about how to get connectivity.  Loon is focussed on rural areas or for example, during natural disasters, areas that go off-line. Loon is perfect in such situations. You are trying to get bits around and you can do it many ways. Be it balloons or drones, instead of laying fibre, you can do these much better.

So people are trying to find out the right model. We are investing into project Titan — flying aerial vehicles and balloon is one way to accomplish that. It’s incredible that everyone is doing this because we have to figure out the next breakthrough in this area. 

How does India compare to the US when it comes to hiring and overall Google plan?

In Bay area in the US, we have about 10,000 people. India is at 1,500. The way we work is that we can build products with 5-6 people that can scale up to the world. India is second-biggest market when it terms to traffic. In terms of Android, India will be the top market next year. In the past we have thought about building products in the US and bringing them into India. Now, we realise when you do stuff in India you think through things which you otherwise wouldn’t so you end up making products that are better. Taking YouTube offline was done targeting India and now it’s rolled out in 77 countries. 

What are your views on Net Neutrality and issues like Zero Rating?

Net neutrality has been hugely critical to the way internet developed. We won’t be here without a strong, free, open internet. So, we are committed to net neutrality. As we evolve, it is important that the core principles of fairness and openness need to stay. It is important that governments and community think about a level-playing field and are pro-user.

All this won’t be a debate if there’s plentiful broadband available.

Views on freedom of information debate…

Freedom of information is important, internet is designed for information. People make videos in India and get 60 per cent of views outside India. That’s a great example of free access to information. Every time there is a change in technology people worry and debate. Society needs to debate in a healthy way. Benefits of free information strongly outweigh the cons. 

Has the ease of doing business in India improved?

It’s got better and it should get even better. The positive is that when people are constrained it inspires creativity and when you have constraints you have to think about innovation. Compared to the US, it’s still a lot difficult to build here in India. 

Google has announced investments for start-ups. How is this going to play out?

We see it as symbiotic. These are people building stuff on top of our platform. We view it as a win-win situation.

We want to see creativity, more innovation on our platforms. This benefits us too.

What’s happening in India and China will have an impact on the future of internet. 

Published on December 16, 2015
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