Telkom and Loon announced the availability of mobile Internet service via the Loon balloon technology to Kenyans, starting this month. Loon’s equipment is partially powered by on-board solar panels. 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.
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). In this and subsequent testing, the service was used for applications such as email, web browsing, data calls e.g via WhatsApp, video calls, and YouTube.
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. 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.
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.
Telkom Kenya’s Chief Executive Officer, Mugo KIBATI, states: “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. This new technology will also complement Telkom’s ongoing strategy to further widen our network coverage, enabling us realize our brand promise; to be Kenya’s preferred data network.”
With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of this crisis has made online education, and other crucial interventions to the country such as Telemedicine as well as digitized and automated platforms to enable the consumer still access service, the new normal.
Loon’s Chief Executive Officer, Alastair WESTGARTH, states: “We could not be more excited to launch service in Kenya. This is the culmination of years of work and collaboration between Loon, Telkom, and the government. Without the support and engagement by various government agencies, today would not be possible. We are incredibly grateful to the many governmental stakeholders who helped usher in Africa’s first application of this innovative technology.”
To provide service in Kenya, Loon and Telkom are utilizing a fleet of around 35 or more 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.
Loon Inc’s Chief Executive Officer, Alistair WESTGARTH, adds: “In light of the spread of COVID-19, Telkom and Loon are working as fast as we can to realize service deployment. This will also enable us 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. The Loon service has the capacity to bring about positive impact; connecting targeted communities to emergency services, as well as ensure enhanced and alternative communication options during this time.”
Mr. KIBATI concludes: “We remain intent on expediting all projected timelines with the primary objective being to further shorten the total time taken towards progressive service deployment.”
Source: AE Africa