Broadband connectivity in Kenya will soon receive a major boost as Telkom and Loon have started rolling out their balloon-powered 4G internet service this month.
The launch comes after two years of planning and testing of the commercial internet service. During the beta test, Loon’s balloons provided internet connectivity to 35,000 customers while covering about 50,000 square kilometres.
Speaking on the launch, Loon’s Chief Executive Officer, Alastair Westgarth expressed great delight while acknowledging the government for its support in making the launch possible.
“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.”
Alastair Westgarth, CEO at Loon
Kenyans to enjoy high internet speed
With the launch of the internet service, Kenyans will soon start enjoying high upload and download internet speeds from Telkom and Loon. Loon plans to employ a fleet of about 35 balloons operating as a link in the mesh network to beam internet among themselves while serving users across Kenya.
‘The system is described as a “carefully choreographed and orchestrated balloon dance,” operating as a link in the mesh network to beam internet to other vehicles or repositioning itself via machine learning algorithms.’
The balloons hover about 12 miles up in the stratosphere, and in a recent field test, recorded an uplink speed of 4.74 Mpbs, a downlink speed of 18.9 Mbps and a latency of 19 milliseconds. The internet service provided by Loon can be used to make voice and video calls, browse the web, email, text, access WhatsApp and stream YouTube.
The mobile internet service will be available from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm and 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.
Boosting Broadband connectivity in Kenya
Internet use in Kenya is relatively high when compared to other African countries. The increasing penetration of mobile phones has provided access to the internet for millions in the country.
However, actual internet use in Kenya is largely concentrated in Nairobi. A major reason for poor internet coverage to the underserved zones is the high cost of the structures needed to push broadband connectivity.
Telkom Kenya’s Chief Executive Officer, Mugo Kibati, in a statement has however revealed that the internet-enabled balloons will be able to offer connectivity to the many underserved Kenyans who live in remote regions.
“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 means that Loon and Telkom working together can increase broadband connectivity without the huge cost of erecting structure or laying fibre networks.
Kenya’s broadband connectivity increased to 53% in 2019. There are also plans to increase access to broadband coverage of 3G to 94% of the population by 2020 and expanding broadband to the 47 counties.
The new internet technology pioneered by Loon could help achieve this as it would limit internet service disruption and provide internet to the remote regions of the country,
As Loon gains more experience flying and dispatching more balloons in Kenya, it is expected that service consistency and broadband connectivity will increase.
With the current pandemic, the impact of digital-base solutions like telemedicine has been significant in helping people cope with the crisis. The provision of internet service in underserved regions through Loon could go a long way in helping more people benefit from these kinds of services.
Loon services have the capacity to support during crises. Before now the company said it has already provided emergency communication following disasters like Hurricane Maria and an earthquake in Peru.
The company plans to launch commercial service in Mozambique next.