Loon Scheduled for First Commercial Launch in Kenya

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Loon balloons will soon begin their journey from the U.S. to Africa to provide commercial connectivity services to Kenyans. Alphabet’s internet-delivery balloon service partnered with Telkom Kenya in 2018, to provide coverage to hard to reach locations within the country. However the launch was delayed due to pending regulatory approval. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta recently fast-tracked approvals, however, “to mitigate the disruptions to our life arising from the pandemic,” reported the Financial Times.

The Loon balloons will travel an estimated 6,800 miles from either Puerto Rico or Nevada to Kenya using air current navigation software. Upon arrival in Kenya, machine learning powered-algorithms and solar-powered cellular network gear will help the balloons maintain a relatively stable position over the target coverage area. According to Loon, balloons move up and down in the stratosphere to catch different air currents, taking short trips in a fixed geographic area to provide 24-hour coverage to customers on the ground.  

TechCrunch reported once the system is tested and proven, Kenyans will be able to access Telkom Kenya’s 4G service from Telkom “at rates on par with what it offers its existing customers through its more traditional network infrastructure.”

Erik Hersman, CEO of African internet accessibility startup BRCK, said this model may still be a barrier to some people. “The problem is that you have to pay the data rates that Telkom charges, which isn’t much by middle-class standards, but most rural people aren’t middle class and their wallets are much more rigid.” BRCK’s Moja platform operates in Kenya and Rwanda, providing free internet access to two million users.

Loon collaborated with the FCC, FAA, FEMA, AT&T, T-Mobile, and others in 2017, to bring basic connectivity to 200,000 people in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, Inside Towers reported.

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