Telkom Kenya and Loon, a subsidiary of Alphabet (Google parent company), today announced the signing of a definitive agreement to pilot a new 4G/LTE access network service in Kenya.

This will be Loon’s first commercial service in Africa though the service has been launched in Kenya previously seeing the unmanned balloons deployed to the northern part of the country.

Telkom Kenya’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Aldo Mareuse, states:

“Telkom is focused on bringing innovative products and solutions to the Kenyan market. With this association with Loon, we will be partnering with a pioneer in the use of high altitude balloons to provide LTE coverage across larger areas in Kenya. We will work very hard with Loon, to deliver the first commercial mobile service, as quickly as possible, using Loon’s balloon-powered Internet in Africa,” says Mr. Mareuse, adding that this will further enhance Telkom’s network to its customers.

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The Loon service is meant to provide extended 4G/LTE coverage to rural and suburban areas with lower population densities, using high altitude balloons operating 20 kilometres (60,000 feet) above sea level, well above air traffic, wildlife, and weather events. The balloons act as floating cell towers, transmitting a provider’s service – in this case Telkom’s service – directly to a subscriber’s existing 4G/LTE phone below. Loon’s equipment is powered by on-board solar panels. This animation explains how Loon works.

Loon Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Alastair Westgarth, states:

“We are extremely excited to partner with Telkom for our first engagement in Africa. Their innovative approach to serving their customers makes this collaboration an excellent fit. Loon’s mission is to connect people everywhere by inventing and integrating audacious technologies. We couldn’t be more pleased to start in Kenya.”

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The pilot will take place within the general area of central Kenya, some of which has been difficult to service, due to mountainous and inaccessible terrain. The exact coverage areas will be determined in the coming months, and subject to the requisite regulatory approvals.

Telkom and Loon will also work closely together over the coming months to prepare for the deployment of the service, which is expected in 2019.

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