Google’s sister project, Loon, has announced that its balloons will now begin providing internet service to customers of Telkom Kenya. The firm said that this is the first time Loon is being used in a non-emergency capacity to provide connectivity on a large-scale. Additionally, it is the first time balloons are providing internet in Africa and is just the first of many commercial deployments worldwide.
In order to provide connectivity, Loon has deployed a fleet of 35 or more balloons that are in constant motion in the stratosphere. The vehicles are currently providing service to 50,000 square kilometers in western and central parts of the country. Some of the areas that can connect to the balloons include Iten, Eldoret, Baringo, Nakuru, Kakamega, Kisumu, Kisii, Bomet, Kericho, and Narok.
In terms of the speeds users can expect, one test run by Loon and Telkom Kenya recorded an uplink speed of 4.74 Mbps, a downlink speed of 18.9 Mbps, and a latency of 19 milliseconds (ms). The two firms were able to use the connectivity to access WhatsApp and YouTube, browse the web, and make voice and video calls.
While the service is only just launching now, Loon has revealed that 35,000 subscribers have already connected to the balloons while they were being tested. According to the firm, some of the people who have already connected to the balloons in the testing phase were not even aware of the fact.
Loon re-iterated the fact that its balloons are not here to replace ground-based communications, instead, they are another layer. In countries with extreme weather or geographies, ground-based communications can frequently be knocked out of operation or be unfeasible. By floating a balloon in the stratosphere, telecom firms can bypass these hurdles and connect more people.