Loon to enhance internet access using balloons in rural Kenya

Billions of people around the world are still without internet access.

The internet has developed very rapidly and offers many services implemented through various technologies, which have many associated terminologies.

It has become difficult for the consumers to keep abreast with all these technologies and therefore unable to make effective decisions when purchasing communication products and services.

This brings us to Loon… Loon is a network of balloons traveling on the edge of space, delivering connectivity to people in unserved and underserved communities around the world.

Loon in partnership with Telkom will pilot an innovative new 4G/LTE access network service in Kenya. This will be Loon’s first commercial service in Africa.

Photo Courtesy www.loon.com

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 kilometers (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 onboard solar panels.

Photo Courtesy www.loon.com

Loon has flown over 30 million km of test flights to date since the project began – with one of the balloons breaking a record by surviving for 198 days aloft in the stratosphere.

The pilot will take place within the general area of central Kenya, some of which has been difficult to service, due to the 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.

The company simulates 30 million kilometers of potential navigation daily to better understand how jet streams and weather patterns will impact balloon routes.

Over 2000 balloons have been launched since kick off

How It Works

High-speed internet is transmitted up to the nearest balloon from the telecommunications partner (in this case, Telkom) on the ground, relayed across the balloon network, and then back down to users on the ground.

Photo Courtesy www.loon.com

Loon has demonstrated data transmission between balloons over 100 km apart in the stratosphere and back down to people on the ground with connection speeds of up to 10 Mbps, directly to their LTE phones.

In September 2017, Project Loon stepped in and delivered internet to 100,000 Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria decimated the Island’s infrastructure.

The team launched their balloons from Nevada and used machine learning algorithms to direct them over Puerto Rico, where they’ve been relaying internet from working ground networks over to users in unconnected areas.


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