Loon, a subsidiary of Alphabet that offers a novel approach to internet connectivity, has announced that its internet balloons have been approved to fly in Kenya.
The Loon USP is to take the essential components of a cell tower and made them light enough and durable enough to operate at 20kms above Earth. By moving with the wind, Loon balloons can be arranged into small clusters to provide periods of prolonged connectivity in a defined area. The balloons act as floating cell towers, transmitting a provider’s service directly to a subscriber’s LTE handset below. Loon’s balloons are designed to last for hundreds of days.
All of which sounds ideal, except that permissions to operate above a country are critical to Loon’s ability to extend internet access to rural and remote populations that lack adequate mobile internet service.
The Kenyan government has now given formal approval for Loon’s balloons to operate in the stratosphere above the country. Balloons being dispatched to Kenya are expected to arrive in a few weeks for final network testing
This means dispatching existing airborne balloons, as well as preparing new ones to launch from Loon launch sites in the United States, and navigating them to Kenya on the stratospheric winds 20km above Earth.
Once the balloons are in place, Loon will conduct the final stages of network integration testing with local partner Telkom Kenya. Following that, it will be able to begin providing service to Kenyans. Initial coverage areas will include the larger central area of the country, with a focus on mountainous and remote areas. Loon and Telkom have also worked with Nokia and Liquid Telecom to install ground stations in Nairobi, Nakuru and Nyeri.
Loon says its deployment in Kenya has been in the works since it signed a contract with Telkom Kenya in July 2018. Since then, it has been collaborating with both Telkom and the government to prepare for these operations.