First Loon internet balloon spotted in Kenya

By Victor Amadala, Kenya

HBA092 is the first loon balloon to enter Kenyan airspace after country authorized the deployment to provide 4G internet access across the country in partnership with Telkom.

StratoCat Baloon, a website that tracks airspace activities captured the internet balloon in space near Daadab Refugee Camp in North Eastern Kenya. It was launched from Puerto Rico on January 25, 2020. 

Early today, the StratoCat took to twitter to announce that more balloons were entering the Kenyan airspace from Somalia. 

‘’More project Loon balloons moving towards Kenya. While the HBA092 is already above the centre of the country, three more balloons including HAA093, HBAL25 and HBAL26 are moving towards the continent near Seychelles,’’ StratoCat tweeted. 

The balloons are arriving in the Kenyan space just a week after President Uhuru Kenyatta unexpectedly gave approval to Google loon balloons despite previous reservations. 

Uhuru said the deployment of those internet balloons will be vital for continuity of learning and work disrupted by the outbreak of coronavirus. The government has since closed schools and imposed a curfew to minimize spread of the virus. 

“These balloons will carry 4G base station and have the capacity to provide wider signal coverage, this intervention will enable Kenya to retain her competitive advantage in ICT and innovation in the midst of the current crisis,” Uhuru said. 

According to him, the Google loon and Telkom Kenya partnership will allow learners from all corners of the country to continue learning through accessing soft copy learning materials and assignments. 

Loon’s solution works by beaming Internet connectivity from these ground stations to a balloon 20km overhead. 

Signal are then sent across multiple balloons, creating a network of floating cell towers that deliver connectivity directly to a user’s LTE-enabled device below. 

Although Alphabet company and Telkom received Communication Authority’s nod and other necessary regulatory approvals in 2018, hoping to deploy the first balloon in the first half of 2019, Kenya’s Civil Aviation Authority did not consent, leading to delays.

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