Alphabet’s Loon has officially launched its commercial internet service in Kenya, powered by high-altitude balloons which act as cell service towers. Loon’s 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 sq km including the capital Nairobi.
Alastair Westgarth, the CEO of Loom, said that the 4G LTE service will be provided to subscribers of Telkom Kenya for now, via a fleet of around 35 balloons.
Loon has been working toward deploying its first commercial service in Kenya since it announced the signed deal in 2019, but the company says that the mission has taken on even greater significance since the onset of Covid-19, raising the need for reliable connectivity.
Communication equipment can now deliver a coverage footprint of over 11,000 sq km, which is 200 times that of an average cell tower.
During a field-testing session in June within the service region, Loon saw an uplink speed of 4.74Mpbs, a downlink speed of 18.9Mbps, and latency of 19 milliseconds (ms). Subsequent tests used the service for all sorts of applications, including voice calls, video calls, YouTube, WhatsApp, email, texting, web browsing, and more.
“In the course of the testing that led us to today’s service launch, many Kenyans have already been connecting to the internet through a balloon — although most didn’t realize it. Since we began early tests, we have connected over 35,000 unique users, delivering OTT voice and video calling, streaming, web connectivity, and more. In fact, we were able to capture some video of a few of these Telkom users as they first experienced balloon-powered internet in Radad, Kenya, where they used the service to show a couple of our Loon team members around via Google hangout,” said Westgarth.
In 2017, Loon also employed its balloons to provide emergency service to areas affected by disaster including Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.