Balloon-powered internet goes live in Kenya
08 July 2020
Google’s sister firm Loon will provide 4G internet access to remote areas of Kenya so people can make voice & video calls, browse the web, email, text and stream videos.
Loon is a network of stratospheric balloons designed to deliver internet connectivity to rural and remote areas. The balloons sail on wind in the stratosphere, extending beyond the reach of telecommunication partner’s networks into areas that are currently unconnected.
The project was announced two years ago but has received final approval from the Kenyan government and has been fast-tracked to help improve communications during COVID-19.
The service will span nearly 50,000 square kilometres, provided by a fleet of around 35+ stratospheric balloons that will be in constant motion above eastern Africa.
Alastair Westgarth, Chief Executive of Loon said in a recent blog post, “Early service quality testing has shown very positive results. In one late-June field testing session within the service region, we saw an uplink speed of 4.74Mpbs, a downlink speed of 18.9Mbps, and latency of 19 milliseconds (ms). In that and subsequent tests, the Loon and Telkom teams have used the service for all sorts of applications, including voice calls, video calls, YouTube, WhatsApp, email, texting, web browsing, and more.
“Since we began early tests, we’ve connected over 35,000 unique users, delivering OTT voice and video calling, streaming, web connectivity, and more.”
The BBC reports that “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.”
Westgarth concludes, “What we’re seeing in Kenya today is the laying of the foundation for a third layer of connectivity. It was a long time in the making, and there is still a lot of work to be done to establish this new layer of connectivity. But today we’re seeing the possibility of what the future can hold if we succeed.”