Loon and Telkom to test deployment of balloon-powered Internet next year

By Victor Magunamu, Kenya

Loon, a company working with Telkom Kenya to launch balloon-powered Internet has announced that plans to start testing in the first quarter in 2019.

In a statement, the firm said it has secured all necessary regulatory approvals and has begun importing and installing ground infrastructure in Kenya.

According to Loon’s chief executive Alastair Westgarth , the two firms have been working collaboratively with governmental agencies to bring Loon’s service to Kenya.

“Together with Telkom Kenya, we have been working in close collaboration with the Kenya Communications Authority, Civil Aviation Authority, and others to secure the needed approvals to usher in Africa’s first-ever deployment of this innovative solution to connect unconnected and under-connected communities,’’ Westgarth said.

Telkom Kenya on other hand said that its collaboration with Loon will see them partner with a pioneer in the use of high altitude balloons to provide LTE coverage across larger areas in Kenya.

"This collaboration represents another important step towards Telkom’s quest to provide high-quality, reliable and affordable data offerings to its customers and Kenyans in under-served locations across the country’’.

The Communications congratulated Telkom Kenya and Loon LLC on making progress toward the launch of Internet services in the undeserved and un-served regions of the country, using new and innovative technologies.

"The Authority granted the requisite approvals to the two entities for deployment of Internet services using Loon’s Balloon powered technology on a trial basis. We encourage other industry players to leverage on new and emerging technologies to roll out ICT services, particularly in remote and rural parts of the country,’’ CA director general Francis Wangusi.

The regulatory approvals allow Loon to host Telkom spectrum on its stratospheric balloons; utilise millimeter wave spectrum to send connectivity from the ground to balloons overhead, and import and install ground infrastructure.

Loon’s solution works by beaming Internet connectivity from these ground stations to a balloon 20 kilometers overhead. From there, the 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.

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.

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