International

Loon Goes Live In Kenya Providing Internet Access Through Balloons

Loon, the balloon-centric project attempting to connect people to the internet, is live in Kenya, according to Alastair Westgarth from the company in a Medium blog post.

The Alphabet subsidiary is described in the blog post as "a network of floating cell towers," or balloons which are sent into the sky to provide internet access. The idea behind the project is to provide internet connectivity to the 3.8 billion people — almost half of humanity — that lacks access to the internet.

According to the company, the idea is to build a "third layer to Earth’s connectivity ecosystem in the stratosphere" that can help connect more people, places and things around the world.

The initial service region will be almost 50,000 square kilometers across western and central Kenya, encompassing the areas of Iten, Eldoret, Baringo, Nakuru, Kakamega, Kisumu, Kisii, Bomet, Kericho, and Narok. A fleet of 35 or more flight vehicles will take to the skies and be in constant motion above the stratosphere, and as more are added, internet service will become more consistent, the blog post states.

The blog says early testing has yielded positive results, according to Loon. A late June test saw results of an uplink speed of 4.74Mpbs, a downlink speed of 18.9Mbps, and latency of 19 milliseconds (ms), in which testers were able to conduct voice calls, video calls, YouTube, WhatsApp, texting and web browsing, among other things.

The balloons will be working together to provide internet access — when one might float out of position, others nearby will be able to provide service where that first one failed, the blog post says.

But even then, it may not be perfect.

"Even with this carefully choreographed and orchestrated balloon dance, there are times when the stratospheric winds, combined with other impediments such as restricted airspaces, constrain our ability to serve an intended region," the blog post acknowledges.

The company manages to find a silver lining to that, too, in that the Loon balloons are flexible and can be moved to provide emergency internet service following a disaster like an earthquake or a storm, as the company did after an earthquake in Peru last year, the blog post notes.

Last year, Loon was also able to provide internet access in the Amazon rainforest.

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