Google’s affiliate company Loon and telecommunications firm Telkom have secured approvals to launch balloon-powered Internet on Telkom’s network next year.
Loon’s technology targets people living in rural areas without sufficient ground stations or fibre Internet connections. It works by beaming Internet connectivity from ground stations to overhead balloons. The signal can then be sent across a network of other floating cell towers before delivering connectivity directly to a user’s mobile phone below.
The regulatory approvals from the Communications Authority and Kenya Civil Aviation Authority allow Loon to host Telkom’s signal on its balloons, utilize millimeter wave technology necessary for sending connectivity from the ground to balloons as well as import and install ground infrastructure.
“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. We are grateful to these agencies for their support, collaboration, and innovative approach to expanding connectivity,” says Loon’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Alastair Westgarth.
Loon has begun to import and install ground infrastructure in Kenya and the partners will begin conducting initial tests with balloons over the country in the first half of 2019. So far, Loon has worked with Telkom, Nokia, East Africa Data Centre, and Liquid Telecom to install ground stations in Nairobi and Nakuru.
“CA wishes to congratulate Telkom Kenya and Loon LLC on making progress toward the launch of Internet services in the underserved and unserved regions of the country, using new and innovative technologies,” said Communications Authority’s Director General, Francis Wangusi.
The stratosphere balloons will hover at about 18 kilometers (60,000 feet) from the ground which is well over Aviation’s operating altitude. To keep them in position, the company has designed a wind prediction model and the ability to quickly change altitudes in the balloon. That way, Loon can guarantee the presence of a balloon above the target area at any one given time.