A Loon Internet Balloon. The American firm has acquired approval to fly internet balloons in Kenya

American balloon internet provider Loon has acquired the requisite regulatory and cabinet approvals to begin flying its technology-powered balloons in Kenya.

The Alphabet subsidiary which is partnering with Telkom locally will dispatch the balloons from Loon’s sites in the United States and are expected to 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 providing4G internet connection services to Kenyans.

Given the COVID-19 virus outbreak and the need for enhanced connectivity, Loon and Telkom are working to have the operation up and running due to the increased demand for internet connectivity.

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. 

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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.

It is also envisaged that the Loon service will work to have targeted communities connected to emergency services.

Moreover, the Loon service will have the potential of connecting remote clinics to the country’s national referral hospitals and other mapped medical facilities as the government battles the COVID-19 outbreak.   

The Loon service has been previously used in disaster emergency response, in collaboration with the Governments of Peru and Puerto Rico.

Lessons from these two assignments would be crucial to helping address some of the connectivity challenges that may be presented by COVID-19.

Loon’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Alastair Westgarth says that Loon and Telkom continue to work collaboratively with governmental agencies to bring Loon’s service to Kenya.

Mr. Westgarth said his company together with Telkom are working 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,” said Mr Westgarth.

Telkom Kenya’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mugo Kibati, said Telkom’s partnership with Loon will see the Kenyan company partner with a pioneer in the use of high-altitude balloons to provide LTE coverage across larger areas in Kenya.

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.

See Also>>> Telkom, Partner Companies Commence Installation of Submarine Cable System

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Samuel Gitonga is a senior reporter at BUSINESS TODAY. Email: [email protected]

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