Google's Loon is putting the cloud in the clouds across Kenya

Judy Cobb
July 22, 2018

Loon, which is linked to Google through parent company Alphabet Inc., says it will work with Telkom Kenya to deliver 4G/LTE cellular access to Kenya in 2019, according to an AP report.

The technology known as Project Loon was developed by the company's innovation lab Alphabet's X. previous year the technology was used by USA telecom operators to provide connectivity to more than 250,000 people in Puerto Rico. The balloons act as floating cell towers, powered by solar panels and transmitting Telkom's service to people below.

Telkom Kenya CEO Aldo Mareuse said that the companies were aiming to "deliver the first commercial mobile service" via the balloons.

However, Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth noted this will mark the first time its balloon-powered internet will be used in Africa.

They float at 60,000 feet above the sea level, well above air traffic, wildlife, and weather events, Loon said. The project's balloons had previously been used for non-commercial deployments to deliver coverage in the wake of natural disasters; most previous year, following flooding in Peru and a hurricane in Puerto Rico.

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The pilot project will focus on central Kenya, which the operator stated is a challenging area to cover due to mountainous and inaccessible terrain.

Loon is one of Alphabet's "Other Bets" technology units which includes self-driving unit Waymo, and Wing - an experimental drone delivery system. With this association with Loon, we will be partnering with a pioneer in the use of high altitude balloons to provide LTE coverage across larger areas in Kenya.

"We couldn't be more excited to start our journey in Kenya, and we look forward to working with mobile network partners worldwide to deliver on the promise of Loon", Westgarth said in a blog post.

With more than 45 million people, Kenya's major cities and towns are covered by operator networks, but vast swathes of rural Kenya are not covered.

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