Telecommunications

Alphabet's internet balloons take on first commercial task in Kenya

Alphabet's internet balloons t...
Project Loon provided connectivity in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and has now begun commercial operations in Kenya
Project Loon provided connectivity in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and has now begun commercial operations in Kenya
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Project Loon provided connectivity in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and has now begun commercial operations in Kenya
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Project Loon provided connectivity in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and has now begun commercial operations in Kenya
More than 35,000 users in Kenya have connected to the Project Loon network so far
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More than 35,000 users in Kenya have connected to the Project Loon network so far
Telkom staff connect to the Project Loon network for the first time
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Telkom staff connect to the Project Loon network for the first time
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After a long series of test runs and stints serving disaster-struck populations in Puerto Rico and Peru, Alphabet’s internet-beaming Project Loon balloons have taken on their first commercial task. The company has now deployed the high-flying communications aircraft over Kenya, where they are providing thousands of folks with an entirely novel form of internet access.

Project Loon is a venture cooked up in Google’s secretive X lab and is hoped to connect large sections of the global population that currently don’t have access to the internet. These solar-powered balloons are fitted out with communications instruments and sent into the stratosphere, where machine-learning algorithms guide them into tight networks that provide connectivity to those on the ground below.

These clusters have been tested out in New Zealand and Brazil, and were also deployed on an emergency-relief basis following an earthquake in Peru and hurricanes in Puerto Rico. Project Loon has now partnered with Kenyan communications firm Telkom to bring its balloon-powered internet to the country.

The service is not only the first commercial deployment of Loon’s balloons, but also the first time such a technology has been put to use in Africa. The service area covers almost 50,000 sq km (19,300 sq mi) of central and western Kenya, with more than 35,000 unique users connected to the network so far.

Telkom staff connect to the Project Loon network for the first time
Telkom staff connect to the Project Loon network for the first time

And the balloon internet is no slouch, with recent testing showing upload speeds of 4.74 megabits per second, download speeds of 18.9 Mbps, and latency of 19 milliseconds. Project Loon expects the reliability of the service to improve as more balloons are added, though it has already shown to be capable of supporting YouTube, WhatsApp, email and web-browsing, according to the team.

You can find out more about Project Loon in Kenya in the video below.

Delivering Connectivity to Rural Kenya

Source: Project Loon

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3 comments
zr2s10
Soooo, how do they get the balloon back? Can they control descent and try to catch it somewhere? Wouldn't it be better to tether them to a base station, kind of like a budget cell tower? Then you can better control the area your network is at. When the balloon starts to drop, reel it in, top it back off, send it back up. It may not go as high as an un-tethered balloon, but just letting the things roam seems like a bad idea. Base stations could be as simple as a small cargo container and easy to just drop wherever.
Nelson Hyde Chick
No toilets, or healthcare but they'll have internet.
Vincent Childs
The progress of the balloons can be followed on Flightradar24 and similar web sites. There are currently 5 balloons over Uganda, none over Kenya.