Kenya deploys loon technology in a first for Africa
Telkom and Loon announce the availability of mobile Internet service via the Loon technology to Kenyans, starting July 2020. This is the first application of the technology in Africa, and the first large-scale, non- emergency use of the technology anywhere in the world.
This important milestone comes as the project partners approach the completion of their network integration tests that have seen them successfully assess service quality across their infrastructure and respective networks.
To provide service in Kenya, Loon and Telkom are utilising a fleet of around 35 separate balloons that are in constant motion in the stratosphere above eastern Africa. Balloons are launched from locations in the United States and navigate to Kenya using wind currents in the stratosphere. As Loon gains more experience flying in Kenya, and dispatches more balloons to the service region, it is expected that service consistency will increase.
“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,” explained Telkom Kenya’s Chief Executive Officer, Mugo KIBAT.
As Loon gains more experience flying in Kenya, and dispatches more balloons to the service region, it is expected that service consistency will increase. In addition, with the Loon technology being a solar-powered solution, customers will get to experience mobile Internet service availability from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm.
In one field testing session in late June, Loon and Telkom registered an uplink speed of 4.74 mbps, a downlink speed of 18.9 mbps, and latency of 19 milliseconds (ms). The service 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.
Loon Inc’s Chief Executive Officer, Alistair Westgarth, added, “In light of the spread of COVID-19, Telkom and Loon are working as fast as they can to realise service deployment. This will also enable us to support the Kenyan Government’s efforts to manage the current crisis in the short-term, and to establish sustainable operations to serve communities in Kenya in the long-term.
Even with Loon’s advanced machine learning algorithms that work to keep the balloons up, there are times when certain impediments such as wind patterns and restricted airspaces, could result in Intermittent service availability. Loon and Telkom are working together to limit any potential service disruptions and improve the user’s experience.