News

Loon’s balloons arrive in Kenya to deliver 4G services

Loon path to Kenya.jpg

Google’s sister company Loon is testing balloons that will provide 4G services across Kenya.

Loon, owned by Alphabet, which also owns Google, is working with Telkom Kenya to deliver the service. It launched the balloons from Puerto Rico (see map) and Nevada on a long journey to Kenya.

According to Loon CTO Salvatore Candido, one balloon from Puerto Rico “flew into Kenyan airspace to begin network testing two weeks ago”. The balloons will operate from 20km above the ground in a trial approved by the Kenyan government a month ago.

Kenya is around 11,000km from the launch site in Puerto Rico, “but our balloons do not fly in a straight line”, says Candido. “Instead, they fly the fastest route that drifting on the stratospheric winds allows.”

He notes: “Other balloons heading for Kenya will fly over central Africa, and still others will fly west out of Puerto Rico and reach their destination after a trans-Pacific flight. The balloons optimise for safety first, and travel time second.”

The Loon balloons will not stop moving once they get to Kenyan airspace. “Once we arrive in Kenya, our flights follow a carefully choreographed dance, again, with our fleet management system’s machine learning-driven navigation algorithms coordinating all the movements,” writes Candido in a post on Medium.

“The balloons perform a variety of manoeuvres to maximise the number of people they are able to connect throughout the day.”

Telkom Kenya will integrate the Loon-delivered service with its own infrastructure. Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth wrote on Medium in March: “Following that, we will be able to begin providing service to Kenyans.”

In February 11 executives from across the telecommunications, technology, aviation and aerospace sectors said they had joined forces to establish an alliance to promote the use of high-altitude vehicles in the Earth’s stratosphere.