Loon internet balloons to fly in Kenya

PHOTO/COURTESY: The Kenya Wall Street

Loon, the Alphabet company working to bring balloon-powered Internet to Kenya with its local partner, Telkom Kenya, has announced the reception of all regulatory and Cabinet approvals to begin flying balloons in Kenya. The balloons will be dispatched from Loon’s sites in the United States, and it is hoped that they will arrive in the country in the next few weeks.

 Once the balloons arrive in Kenya, Loon and Telkom will be able to conduct the final stages of network integration testing, required to begin serving Kenyans. Given the situation with the COVID-19 virus and the need for enhanced connectivity, Loon and Telkom are working as quickly as possible, given the limitations resulting from the worldwide pandemic. Loon and Telkom have also worked with Nokia, and Liquid Telecom to install ground stations in Nairobi, Nakuru, and Nyeri.

 The Loon service will seek to use its 4G LTE Internet solution to connect unserved and under-served communities in Kenya. Initial coverage areas have already been identified, within the larger central area of the country; fairly mountainous and remote areas, making service accessibility and availability a challenge.

 Telkom and Loon will thereafter work to expedite service deployment, progressively to other areas, to support the Kenya Government’s efforts to address and manage the spread of COVID-19 in the country. It is also envisaged that the Loon service will work to have targeted communities connected to emergency services, as well as ensure enhanced and alternative communication options between loved ones, whether in isolation or in quarantine. Moreover, the Loon service will have the potential of connecting remote clinics to the country’s national referral hospitals and other mapped medical facilities.   

 The Loon service has been previously used in disaster emergency response, in collaboration with the Governments of Peru and Puerto Rico. The learnings from these two assignments would be crucial to helping address some of the connectivity challenges that may be presented by COVID-19.

Loon’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Alastair Westgarth says that Loon and Telkom continue to work collaboratively with governmental agencies to bring Loon’s service to Kenya.

 “Together with Telkom, we continue to work in close collaboration with the Communications Authority of Kenya, Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, and others, to usher in Africa’s first-ever deployment of this innovative solution, to connect unconnected and under-connected communities. We are grateful to these agencies for their support, collaboration, and innovative approach to expanding connectivity,” Mr. Westgarth said.

On his part, Telkom Kenya’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mugo Kibati, insisted that the telco remains focused on bringing innovative products and solutions to the Kenyan market.

“Our association with Loon will see us partner with a pioneer in the use of high-altitude balloons to provide LTE coverage across larger areas in Kenya. This collaboration also represents Telkom’s continued support of the Government, which will, in the long run, seek to help arrest the spread of the coronavirus that has now entered our borders,” Mr. Kibati said.

 Loon’s solution works by beaming Internet connectivity from ground stations to a balloon 20 Kilometres overhead. From there, a signal can be sent across multiple balloons, creating a network of floating cell towers that deliver connectivity directly to a user’s LTE-enabled device below.

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