Kenya becomes first African country to deploy LOON internet technology

Uhuru loons
President Uhuru Kenyatta when he announced the approval of Google Loon Services in Kenya to enable universal 4G data coverage in the country in March 2020. Photo Courtesy/State House

Kenya has pulled an African first by becoming the first African country to effect application of the Google loon technology in Africa.

This is also the first large-scale, non-emergency use of the loon technology anywhere in the world. Progressive deployment of this pioneering technology to customers is now on course to customers from July 2020

Telkom and Loon target to continuously improve the technology to progressively offer better experience to the customer. The development means mobile Internet service will now be available in Kenya via the Loon technology to Kenyans, starting July 2020.

This important milestone comes as Telkom & Loon approach the completion of their network integration tests that involved assessment of service quality across their infrastructure and respective networks.

In one field testing session in late June, Loon and Telkom registered an uplink speed of 4.74 mbps, a downlink speed of 18.9 mbps, and latency of 19 milliseconds (ms). In this and subsequent testing, the service was used for applications such as email, web browsing, data calls e.g via WhatsApp, video calls, and YouTube.

 Even with Loon’s advanced machine learning algorithms that work to keep the balloons up, there are times when certain impediments such as wind patterns and restricted air spaces, could result in intermittent service availability. Loon and Telkom now say they are working together to limit any potential service disruptions and improve the user’s experience.

 As Loon gains more experience flying in Kenya, and dispatches more balloons to the service region, the company expects that service consistency will increase.

In addition, with the Loon technology being a solar-powered solution, customers will get to experience mobile Internet service availability from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm.

The service will initially cover a region spanning nearly 50,000 sq.km, including the areas of Iten, Eldoret, Baringo, Nakuru, Kakamega, Kisumu, Kisii, Bomet, Kericho, and Narok.

 “This is an exciting milestone for Internet service provision in Africa and the world, more so that the service will pioneer in Kenya. This being a purely data service and with the continued migration of communication towards data-supported platforms, the Internet-enabled balloons will be able to offer connectivity to the many Kenyans who live in remote regions that are underserved or totally unserved, and as such remain disadvantaged. This new technology will also complement Telkom’s ongoing strategy to further widen our network coverage, enabling us realise our brand promise; to be Kenya’s preferred data network,” says Mugo Kibati, Telkom Kenya’s Chief Executive Officer.

 With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of this crisis has made online education, and other crucial interventions to the country such as Telemedicine as well as digitized and automated platforms to enable the consumer still access service, the new normal.

 “We could not be more excited to launch service in Kenya. This is the culmination of years of work and collaboration between Loon, Telkom, and the government. Without the support and engagement by various government agencies, today would not be possible. We are incredibly grateful to the many governmental stakeholders who helped usher in Africa’s first application of this innovative technology,” says Alastair Westgarth, Loon’s Chief Executive Officer.

“In light of the spread of COVID-19, Telkom and Loon are working as fast as we can to realise service deployment. This will also enable us support the Kenyan Government’s efforts to manage the current crisis in the short-term, and to establish sustainable operations to serve communities in Kenya in the long-term. The Loon service has the capacity to bring about positive impact; connecting targeted communities to emergency services, as well as ensure enhanced and alternative communication options during this time,” he added.

 To provide service in Kenya, Loon and Telkom are utilizing a fleet of around 35 or more separate balloons that are in constant motion in the stratosphere above Eastern Africa. Balloons are launched from locations in the United States and navigate to Kenya using wind currents in the stratosphere.

As Loon gains more experience flying in Kenya, and dispatches more balloons to the service region, it is expected that service consistency will increase. 

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