The balloons act as floating cell towers, transmitting service directly to a subscriber’s phone below.

Telkom Kenya and Loon, a subsidiary of US-based tech firm A******t, have signed an agreement to pilot a new high-speed internet access network in Kenya. The new 4G/LTE access network service will be Loon’s first commercial service in Africa.

LTE means Long Term Evolution, or the highly technical process involved in high-speed data for smartphones and mobile devices. It supports data speeds that are up to 10 times faster than the current 3G network.

The Loon service is an innovative approach to providing extended 4G/LTE coverage to rural and suburban areas with lower population densities, using high altitude balloons operating 20 kilometres (60,000 feet) above sea level, well above air traffic, wildlife, and weather events.

The 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. Loon’s equipment is powered by on-board solar panels.

“This partnership with Loon is a true testament of our resolve to deploy pioneer technologies due to their potential impact to our customers,” said Telkom Kenya’s Board chairman, Mr Eddy Njoroge.

Telkom Kenya’s CEO Aldo Mareuse said the telecommunications operators is focused on offering innovative products and solutions in the Kenyan market. He said the collaboration represents an important step towards Telkom’s quest to provide high-quality, reliable and affordable data services.

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“We are partnering with a pioneer in the use of high altitude balloons to provide LTE coverage across larger areas in Kenya,” Mr Mareuse said. “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.”

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Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth said the company’s mission is to connect people everywhere by inventing and integrating ‘audacious’ technologies. “We couldn’t be more pleased to start in Kenya,” he added.

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The technology will be piloted win central Kenya in areas that have been difficult to service, due to mountainous and inaccessible terrain. The exact coverage areas will be determined in the coming months, and subject to the requisite regulatory approvals.

Telkom and Loon will also work closely together over the coming months to prepare for the deployment of the service, which is expected in 2019.

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