Kenya’s third largest telecommunications operator, Telkom, and Loon, a subsidiary of Alphabet, have partnered to provide 4G/LTE internet service to parts of Kenya by launching antennas attached to giant balloons into the stratosphere.
This is Loon’s first commercial service in Africa, seven years after its secretive launch inside Google X, Google’s arm dedicated to research and development.
“We are extremely excited to partner with Telkom for our first engagement in Africa. Their innovative approach to serving their customers makes this collaboration an excellent fit. Loon’s mission is to connect people everywhere by inventing and integrating audacious technologies. We couldn’t be more pleased to start in Kenya.” stated Mr. Alastair Westgarth, Loon Chief Executive Officer.
While the conventional ground-based cell towers provide coverage spanning a few kilometers, these antenna attached and helium-filled balloons fly at 60,000 feet above the earth, higher than air traffic and weather providing internet coverage over 5,000 square kilometres making them well-suited for tough terrain and sparsely populated areas.
These solar-powered balloons act as floating cell towers, transmitting a provider’s service – in this case, Telkom’s service – directly to a subscriber’s existing 4G/LTE phone below.
“Telkom is focused on bringing innovative products and solutions to the Kenyan market. 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 will work very hard with Loon, to deliver the first commercial mobile service, as quickly as possible, using Loon’s balloon-powered Internet in Africa,” says Mr. Mareuse, Telkom Kenya’s Chief Executive Officer, adding that this will further enhance Telkom’s network to its customers.
The financial details were not revealed but the two companies are working over the coming months to prepare for the deployment of the service, expected to be rolled out in 2019.
Kenya has one of the fastest internet in the world with more than 80% internet penetration of the overall population pegged at more than 48 million. With Loon’s Internet-delivering balloons being deployed, more Kenyans are expected to access the web, which in turn could increase usage of Google and its related services in the country.