Alphabet Inc, owner of Google, plans to bring the internet to remote areas by balloon – and Kenya is on the list.
In fact, strictly speaking, it is Loon, a unit of Alphabet Inc, which uses high-altitude balloons to provide mobile internet to remote areas, that plans to provide the floating balloon-enabled internet services to Kenya.
However, to do this Loon needs overflight rights in Uganda because the balloons providing the service may find themselves above the Ugandan stratosphere as they fulfil their mission. Loon has now signed a key agreement with Uganda that grants it those rights. No date has yet been given for the launch of the balloons serving Kenya, although we are told it could be soon.
Such permissions are key to the firm’s ambition of providing internet access to rural and remote populations that receive poor connectivity from traditional telecoms in Kenya. Billions of people around the world are still without internet access. Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, delivering connectivity to people in unserved and underserved communities around the world.
The balloons function as aerial mobile towers. They have been trialled extensively in Uganda and nearby countries, having first been deployed in 2017 to provide emergency coverage in the wake of natural disasters, including floods in Peru and a hurricane in Puerto Rico.
This experience may have struck a chord with Telefonica in Peru, as the operator group last month signed a remote connectivity agreement with Loon for the market. Coverage will launch early next year.
Made from sheets of polyethylene, each tennis court-sized balloon is designed to float 20 kilometres above sea level. The Loon balloons will be launched from the US and monitored from Mountain View, California. The balloons are powered by an on-board solar panel and provide fourth generation (4G) coverage to underserved areas.