Google’s sister firm Loon which uses floating balloons to provide internet, has launched its first commercial service in Kenya.
In a blog post announcing the news, Loon’s CEO Alastair Westgarth said that the 4G LTE service will be provided to Telkom Kenya subscribers via a fleet of around 35 balloons, covering an area of around 50,000 square kilometers across western and central areas of the country, including its capital, Nairobi.
It will provide 4G coverage so people can make voice and video calls, browse the web, email, text and stream videos.
The project was announced two years ago but final sign-off from the Kenyan government has only just been given.
It is now being fast-tracked to help improve communications during the coronavirus pandemic.
“In light of the spread of COVID-19, Telkom and Loon are working as fast as we can to realise service deployment. This will also enable us support the Kenyan Government’s efforts to manage the current crisis in the short-term, and to establish sustainable operations to serve communities in Kenya in the long-term. The Loon service has the capacity to bring about positive impact; connecting targeted communities to emergency services, as well as ensure enhanced and alternative communication options during this time.”Loon’s Chief Executive Officer, Alastair WESTGARTH, states:
Loon began as one of Google’s so-called ”moonshot projects” in 2011.
In 2018, it teamed up with Telkom Kenya to provide a commercial service.
“This is an exciting milestone for Internet service provision in Africa and the world, more so that the service will pioneer in Kenya. This being a purely data service and with the continued migration of communication towards data-supported platforms, the Internet-enabled balloons will be able to offer connectivity to the many Kenyans who live in remote regions that are underserved or totally unserved, and as such remain disadvantaged. This new technology will also complement Telkom’s ongoing strategy to further widen our network coverage, enabling us realise our brand promise; to be Kenya’s preferred data network.”Telkom Kenya’s Chief Executive Officer, Mugo KIBATI, states:
However, some critics said it would have been better in another African country because Kenya already has an estimated 39 million out of a population of 48 million people online.
But Loon says it hopes to offer internet connectivity as part of more commercial services around the world. It also has several other projects in the pipeline. It plans to use its balloons to provide internet service to disaster-stricken areas and with Vodacom to provide internet to Mozambique.
Previously balloons from Loon have been used during an earthquake in Peru.