Loon expands Kenyan balloon fleet

Loon expands Kenyan balloon fleet

Loon, a subsidiary of Alphabet that takes internet connectivity to the skies in a fleet of balloons, has announced that more of its balloons have been approved to fly in Kenya.

Alphabet’s Loon concept has taken the most essential components of a cell tower and redesigned them to be light and durable enough to be carried by a balloon 20 kilometres up in the stratosphere. 

Eight balloons are already in Kenyan airspace and are being used for integration exercises. Loon has now dispatched five additional connectivity balloons to Kenya, aiming to speed up network integration testing with partner Telkom Kenya and the launch of 4G internet services in the country.

The latest batch of balloons, launched from Puerto Rico, should reach Kenya in the coming weeks.

As well as accelerating testing, the balloons are expected to provide insights that can be used to fast-track integration of all other balloons (expected eventually to number in the dozens) sent to the country in future to form a commercial fleet.

Loon secured government approval for deployments in Kenya last month. The fleet, when ready, should include dozens of balloons, all able to stay airborne for months; the record so far is 223 days.

The commercial service will initially target cities, including the Kenyan capital Nairobi, along with other key towns and regions. However, a strong selling point of the service is its potential for offering connectivity to rural and remote areas. 

Loon is not the only connectivity innovation of its kind. SoftBank’s HAPSMobile aims to transmit a signal, via its unmanned aircraft, that can cover 200 kilometres in diameter. HAPS, incidentally, stands for either high-altitude pseudo-satellites or high-altitude platform systems.

Various LEO satellite initiatives are also under way, all trying to find an answer to the problem of how to connect remote areas cost-effectively.

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