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Loon has Started Delivering Connectivity to Rural Kenya

You have read a lot about Loon on this blog and our sister blogs. The good news is that Loon is finally providing connectivity to Kenya. It's been nearly 3 years since they were first providing connectivity to flood affected Peru. In our last post on this topic on the blog, we looked at how Loon and Terrestrial LTE can co-exist, which is what is required for providing connectivity via Loon over rural areas.


A blog post by Loon CEO provided more details. Here are some extracts:

Balloons went from lasting hours to days to weeks to months to over half a year. Launching, once done by hand, is now done by twin, 90-foot tall automated machines that can send a balloon to 60,000 feet once every 30 minutes. Balloons that once floated freely around the world are now directed by machine-learning algorithms that have developed their own interesting and complex navigational maneuvers to achieve the mission of providing sustained service to users below. Communications equipment that could have once been made in a college dorm room (literally: beer coolers and WiFi routers were used in the early days) now deliver a coverage footprint of over 11,000 square kilometers — a whopping 200x that of an average cell tower. And a company that began building a commercial business just two years ago now has contracts to serve on multiple continents, partnerships with some of the largest mobile network operators in the world, is leading the commercial exploration and development of the stratosphere, and is helping the global aviation community develop the next generation of high-altitude operations, regulations, and policy.

Once a curious skeptic, I now have the great privilege of being the CEO of Loon, and I couldn’t be prouder of the progress the team has made. Today, we get to build on that progress with the announcement that Loon is now providing 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

In Kenya, our initial service region spans nearly 50,000 square kilometers across 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.

Early service quality testing has shown very positive results. In one late-June field testing session within the service region, we saw an uplink speed of 4.74Mpbs, a downlink speed of 18.9Mbps, and latency of 19 milliseconds (ms). In that and subsequent tests, the Loon and Telkom teams have used the service for all sorts of applications, including voice calls, video calls, YouTube, WhatsApp, email, texting, web browsing, and more.



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. In fact, we were able to capture some video of a few of these Telkom users as they first experienced balloon-powered internet in Radad, Kenya, where they used the service to show a couple of our Loon team members around via Google hangout.

Complete post here.

There is a lot of activity around the use of Loon in various areas, networks. In the last year, Loon has signed contracts with AT&T, UgandaVodacom Mozambique and Telefonica (Internet para Todos, IpT for remote parts of the Amazon). I am sure we will see a lot more Loons connecting the world soon.

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