Connecting Africa is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 3099067.

4G/5G

Balloon-powered 4G takes flight in Kenya

Article Image
Balloon-powered 4G is now available in Kenya's rural areas through a project between Loon and Telkom Kenya.

It has been two years since the partnership was announced and now Loon's CEO Alastair Westgarth confirmed in a blog post that the Alphabet subsidiary – which came from Google's X moonshot factory – is now providing commercial service in Kenya to subscribers of Telkom Kenya.

"This is a first in many ways: the first non-emergency use of Loon to provide connectivity on a large-scale basis, the first application of balloon-powered Internet in Africa, and the first of what will be many commercial deployments around the world," he said.

In Kenya, the initial service region spans nearly 50,000 square kilometers across the western and central parts of the country, including the areas of Iten, Eldoret, Baringo, Nakuru, Kakamega, Kisumu, Kisii, Bomet, Kericho, and Narok.

"To cover this area, we'll utilize a fleet of around 35 or more separate flight vehicles that are in constant motion in the stratosphere above eastern Africa. As we continue to add balloons to achieve this target fleet size in the coming weeks, service availability will become more consistent," Westgarth explained.

Telkom Kenya executives use the Loon service for the first time in Radad, Kenya. Source: Loon.
Telkom Kenya executives use the Loon service for the first time in Radad, Kenya. Source: Loon.

Loon's momentum has been growing lately, with a breakthrough airspace deal with Uganda allowing it to finally begin flying balloons in Kenya and a recent partnership with AT&T in the US, which also extends to AT&T's partners around the world.

In May, Loon also announced a deal with Vodacom in Mozambique that will see the two begin serving the Cabo Delgado and Niassa provinces of Mozambique. These two regions have proven hard to connect in the past.

In Kenya, early service quality testing has shown very positive results and the Loon and Telkom teams have tested the service for voice and video calls as well as Internet browsing and popular services like YouTube and WhatsApp.

One field test in late June produced a downlink speed of 18.9 Mbit/s and an uplink speed of 4.74 Mbit/s, with a latency of 19 milliseconds.

In Kenya the initial Loon service region will span nearly 50,000 square kilometers across the western and central parts of the country. Source: Loon.
In Kenya the initial Loon service region will span nearly 50,000 square kilometers across the western and central parts of the country. Source: Loon.

"In the course of the testing that led us to today's service launch, many Kenyans have already been connecting to the Internet through a balloon — although most didn't realize it. Since we began early tests, we've connected over 35,000 unique users, delivering OTT voice and video calling, streaming, web connectivity, and more," Westgarth said.

Loon has taken the essential components of a cell tower and redesigned them to be light and durable enough to be carried by a balloon 20km (12.4 miles) up. The balloons are the size of a tennis court and made from sheets of polyethylene, and powered by an on-board solar panel. They are made to last for more than 100 days before landing back on Earth in a controlled descent.

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

Innovation hub

Story

Hot startup of the month: SA's Snode

This month's hot startup is South African company Snode, which is applying a data-driven approach to cybersecurity.

Story

Twitter announces first African office in Ghana, begins hiring

Twitter has announced it is planning to open an office in Accra, the Ghanaian capital – the first in Africa for the social media giant.

More Innovation hub

Guest Perspectives

Story

Factors influencing fintech adoption in Nigeria

By Yusuf Opeyemi Akinwale and Adam Konto Kyari

This article is a collaboration with the African Journal of Science, Technology, Innovation and Development and explores the factors impacting the adoption of financial services technology in Lagos, Nigeria.

Story

Omdia View: March 2021

By Omdia Analysts

Omdia's analysts provide context and analysis to the biggest stories making headlines in Africa during March 2021.

More Guest Perspectives

Flash poll

All polls

AfricaCom perspectives

Story

Digital inclusion as a catalyst for economic empowerment: Mastercard's Imelda Ngunzu

Mastercard's Imelda Ngunzu talks to Connecting Africa about how digital payment solutions and mobile money are transforming the lives of small business owners, women and marginalized groups in East Africa.

Story

Accelerating women in STEM: In conversation with GirlCode's Tinyiko Simbine

GirlCode co-founder and CFO Tinyiko Simbine talks about why it's important to help girls and young women excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Story

How Poa Internet is unlocking meaningful connectivity in East Africa

Poa Internet's CEO Andy Halsall shares his views on what it takes to develop last-mile connectivity and get Africans online in a meaningful way.

More AfricaCom perspectives

Latest video

More videos

Upcoming events

East Africa Com
May 11-12, 2021
Virtual Event
North Africa Com
July 13-14, 2021
Virtual Event
Asia Tech x Singapore
July 13-16, 2021
Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
Africa Tech Festival
November 8-12, 2021
Cape Town, South Africa
More Upcoming events

Partner perspectives

The moving target that is telecoms fraud
By Clémentine Fournier, Regional VP Sales, Africa, BICS

How mobile operators in Africa can address signalling threats and secure the network
By Katia Gonzalez, Head of Fraud and Security at BICS

SD-WAN and satellite – how MNOs and telcos can enjoy the best of both worlds
By Ofer Asif, SVP BizDev, marketing and strategy at Spacecom

All Partner Perspectives

Sponsored video

More videos

Like us on Facebook

Newsletter Sign Up


Sign Up