Alphabet's Loon Launches 35 Balloons Above Kenya to Provide Internet

The initial span of the project is 50,000 square kilometers.
Fabienne Lang
Loon balloon above KenyaLoon/YouTube

A number of people in rural parts of Kenya will now be able to access internet thanks to Alphabet's (Google's parent company) Loon division's new project.

A fleet of 35 balloons will be launched in the African country to provide 4G LTE service, which will be provided by Telkom Kenya — the first commercial service of its kind in Kenya. 

The area the project spans at the moment is roughly 50,000 square kilometers across western and central parts of the country.


Flying internet

This isn't the first time Loon is providing internet for hard-to-reach areas, although its history is more closely linked to helping people in disaster-struck regions. For instance, back in 2017, Loon launched its internet balloons in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

The Kenya project, however, is its first large-scale commercial deployment. 

So far, Loon's project in Kenya has provided 35,000 residents with internet "although most didn't realize it," as per Loon's CEO Alastair Westgarth.

As per Westgarth's blog entry on the subject, in Kenya Loon has achieved a downlink speed of 18.9 Mbps and an uplink speed of 4.74 Mbps, and that services such as email, voice and video calls, web browsing, WhatsApp, and YouTube views have all been tried and tested. 

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These "flight vehicles," as the company calls them, hover 20km up in the air, analyzing the weather so as to know where to ride on stratospheric winds. They can operate up to 100 days in the air. 

Loon explains that these balloons aren't meant to replace satellite internet or ground-based technology like cell towers, rather they are to offer a "third layer" of connectivity to simply help more people get online worldwide. 

The hope is to assist with education in rural parts of Kenya, medical assistance, and enabling farmers to know what weather to expect and thus to plan accordingly with their crops and pastures. 


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