Alphabet’s Loon has partnered with Telkom Kenya for its first commercial agreement in Africa.
The announcement settles speculation that arose earlier this month, when communications minister Joe Mucheru told Reuters that Loon would be partnering with Kenyan operator but did not confirm which.
Under the agreement with Telkom Kenya, Loon - which delivers connectivity via high-altitude balloons – will trial LTE services in suburban and rural areas of Kenya, with the goal of a full launch in 2019. Telkom Kenya CEO Aldo Mareuse said that the companies were aiming to “deliver the first commercial mobile service” via the balloons.
The companies will begin the offering in central Kenya, which features many hard-to-reach settlements due to its mountainous landscape. Telkom Kenya noted that this geography makes it challenging to deploying infrastructure in the region. The operator will work with Loon to specify the most effective coverage areas, but will require regulatory approval before they can begin offering services.
The deal comes hot on the heels of the former Project Loon being upgraded from Alphabet’s X research division into a separate subsidiary company. The project’s balloons had previously been used for non-commercial deployments to deliver coverage in the wake of natural disasters; most last year, following flooding in Peru and a hurricane in Puerto Rico.