Loon, the Alphabet subsidiary working to bring balloon-powered internet to Kenya with its local partner, Telkom Kenya, announce the reception of all regulatory and government approvals to begin flying balloons in Kenya. The balloons will be dispatched from Loon’s sites in the United States, and it is hoped that they will arrive in the country in the next few weeks.
Once the balloons arrive in Kenya, Loon and Telkom will be able to conduct the final stages of network integration testing, required to begin serving Kenyans. Given the situation with the COVID-19 virus and the need for enhanced connectivity, Loon and Telkom are working as quickly as possible, given the limitations resulting from the worldwide pandemic. Loon and Telkom have also worked with Nokia, and Liquid Telecom to install ground stations in Nairobi, Nakuru and Nyeri.
The Loon service, will seek to use its 4G LTE Internet solution to connect unserved and under-served communities in Kenya. Initial coverage areas have already been identified, within the larger central area of the country; fairly mountainous and remote areas, making service accessibility and availability a challenge.
Telkom and Loon will thereafter work to expedite service deployment, progressively to other areas, to support the Kenya Government’s efforts to address and manage the spread of COVID-19 in the country. It is also envisaged that the Loon service will work to have targeted communities connected to emergency services, as well as ensure enhanced and alternative communication options between loved ones, whether in isolation or in quarantine. Moreover, the Loon service will have the potential of connecting remote clinics to the country’s national referral hospitals and other mapped medical facilities.
The Loon service has been previously used in disaster emergency response, in collaboration with the Governments of Peru and Puerto Rico. The learnings from these two assignments would be crucial to helping address some of the connectivity challenges that may be presented by COVID-19.
Loon’s CEO Alastair Westgarth says that the company and Telkom continue to work collaboratively with governmental agencies to bring Loon’s service to Kenya.
Westgarth says: “Together with Telkom, we continue to work in close collaboration with the Communications Authority of Kenya, Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, and others, to usher in Africa’s first-ever deployment of this innovative solution, to connect unconnected and under-connected communities. We are grateful to these agencies for their support, collaboration, and innovative approach to expanding connectivity.”
Telkom Kenya’s CEO Mugo Kibati, states: “Telkom remains focused on bringing innovative products and solutions to the Kenyan market. Our association with Loon, will see us partner with a pioneer in the use of high-altitude balloons to provide LTE coverage across larger areas in Kenya. This collaboration also represents Telkom’s continued support of the Government, which will in the long run seek to help arrest the spread of the coronavirus that has now entered our borders.”
Loon’s solution works by beaming internet connectivity from ground stations to a balloon 20 kilometres overhead. From there, a signal can be sent across multiple balloons, creating a network of floating cell towers that deliver connectivity directly to a user’s LTE-enabled device below. In 2018, Loon announced advances in its ability to share connectivity among multiple balloons. Combined with the large coverage area of each balloon – roughly 30 times greater than a ground-based system – Loon makes it possible to provide service to traditionally hard-to-reach areas.
Established as a telecom operator in April 1999, Telkom is 60 per cent owned by Helios Investment Partners, with the remaining stake held the government of Kenya. Telkom Kenya owns a 23% stake in TEAMS, a 5,000km undersea fibre optic cable through Fujairah, UAE; a 10% stake in LION2 another 2,700km undersea fibre optic cable through Mauritius. It also owns a 2.6% stake in the East African Submarine System Cable and manages the National Optic Fibre Backbone, an inland fibre optic cable network running through Kenyan counties. The arrival of DARE 1 with Telkom as the landing partner further reinforces its role in the management of the National Optic Fibre Backbone.
Loon aims to connect people everywhere by inventing and integrating audacious technologies. By redesigning the essential components of a cell tower so they can be carried by balloon 20 kilometres above the earth, Loon makes it possible to extend internet access to the billions of people who lack connectivity. Using a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, Loon works with mobile network operators to expand their coverage to un-served and underserved communities, supplement existing networks, and provide expedient coverage after natural disasters. To date, Loon’s balloons have travelled more than 30 million kilometers around the world.