Telkom Kenya in partnership with Loon, have officially launched Alphabet’s Loon commercial internet service in Kenya.
A first large-scale commercial offering, Alphabet makes use of Loon’s high-altitude balloons, which essentially work as cell service towers that drift on currents in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
Loon’s Chief Executive Officer, Alastair Westgarth said, “We could not be more excited to launch service in Kenya. This is the culmination of years of work and collaboration between Loon, Telkom, and the government. Without the support and engagement by various government agencies, today would not be possible. We are incredibly grateful to the many governmental stakeholders who helped usher in Africa’s first application of this innovative technology.”
Its Kenyan service is offered in partnership with local telecom provider Telkom Kenya and provides cellular service through their network to an area covering roughly 50,000 square kilometres (31,000 square miles) that normally hasn’t had reliable service due to the difficulty of setting up ground infrastructure in the mountainous terrain.
Commenting on the development, Telkom Kenya’s Chief Executive Officer, Mugo Kibati said, “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 pure 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.”
Loon has been working toward deploying its first commercial service deployment in Kenya since it announced the signed deal in 2019, but the company says that the mission has taken on even greater significance and importance since the onset of COVID-19, which has meant that reliable connectivity, especially in light of the restrictions upon travel that the epidemic has placed, makes the ability to remotely contact doctors, family members and others all the more important.
Some of the technical details of how Loon’s stratospheric balloons will offer this continuous service, and what kind of network quality people can expect, include that the fleet has around 35 balloons acting together, which are moving constantly to maintain the target area coverage. Average speeds look to be around 18.9Mbps down, and 4.74 Mbps up, with 19-millisecond latency, and real-world testing has shown that this has served well for use across voice and video calls, as well as YouTube streaming, WhatsApp use and more, according to Loon.
The company actually began testing its service earlier this year, with many customers connecting to the network without even realizing it during those tests, and Loon says it has served over 35,000 customers and provided the services listed during those tests.
Loon is currently working with a number of commercial telecom partners to deploy non-emergency service in a number of underserved regions globally. Prior to the launch, Loon employed its balloons to provide emergency service to areas affected by the disaster, including Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
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