Kenyans in the rural areas have a reason to celebrate after Loon, a subsidiary of google parent company alphabet launched a number of high-flying balloons in Kenya with the aim of increasing the country’s internet connectivity.
Working in partnership with Telkom Kenya, Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth noted the project will use about 35 balloons, (or flight vehicles, as the company calls them) to beam 4G LTE service. He also expressed delight while acknowledging the government for its support in making the launch possible.
“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.” Said Westgarth.
The unveiling follows two years of planning and testing of the commercial internet service. Throughout the beta test, Loon’s balloons offered internet connectivity to 35,000 customers while covering about 50,000 square kilometres.
In a recent field test, the balloons which hover about 12 miles up in the stratosphere recorded an uplink speed of 4.74 Mpbs, a downlink speed of 18.9Mbps and a latency of 19 milliseconds.
The mobile internet service will be available from 6:00am to 9:00pm will be used to make voice and video calls, browse the web, email, text, access WhatsApp and stream YouTube. At first, the service will cover a region spanning nearly 50,000 sq km including the areas of Eldoret, Iten, Baringo, Kakamega, Nakuru, Kisumu, Kisii, Bomet, Kericho and Narok.
In a statement Telkom Kenya’s Chief Executive Officer, Mugo Kibati highlighted that the internet-enabled balloons will be able to deliver connectivity to the rural communities who are considered newcomers in the digital world.
“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 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 many Kenyans who live in remote regions that are underserved or totally unserved, and as such remain disadvantaged.”
This introduction represents the first commercial deployment of the technology, which up till now has been tested only in emergency situations, including three years ago in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria swept across the island. The deployment is also the first in Africa, the most underserved region globally in term of internet connectivity.
Improvement of Kenya’s Broadband connectivity
In comparison to other African nations, Kenya is relatively high when it comes to internet connectivity. The introduction of low cost 3G broadband mobile phones has necessitated access to the internet for many countrywide.
Despite this real internet usage in Kenya is mainly localised in Nairobi. High cost of infrastructure required to boost broadband connectivity has hampered the quest for high speed internet coverage in the underserved areas.
However, analysts see the partnership between Loon and Telkom is a step towards increasing broadband connectivity without the huge budget of establishing structure or laying fibre networks.
Last year Kenya’s broadband connectivity rose to 53%. By 2020, the country plans to increase access to broadband coverage of 3G to 94% of the population with respect to the 47 counties.
Loon plans to launch the commercial service in Mozambique in the near future.