SINGAPORE - Google's plans to beam the Internet from giant balloons sent to the stratosphere could boost small businesses in rural parts of Asia by connecting them online, the company said.

Karim Temsamani, Google's head of Asia Pacific, said in a speech at the Communicasia conference in Singapore, that the Internet balloons might also facilitate communication during disasters.

Google last week revealed top secret plans to launch thousands of balloons to provide Internet connections to remote parts of the world, allowing the more than four billion people with no access to get online.

Its scientists on Saturday released up to 30 helium-filled test balloons flying 12.4 miles above Christchurch in New Zealand, carrying antennae linked to ground base stations.

"What's devastating is that only a tiny fraction of SMEs (small-medium enterprises) all across Asia are online right now," Temsamani told the conference.

He said India, one of the region's emerging economies, has 47 million small businesses, but only 1% are online.

"Getting more businesses online is crucial to every single country in the region," he said.