Telkom and Loon today announced the availability of mobile Internet service via the Loon technology to Kenyans, starting July 2020.
The 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 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 air spaces, could result in intermittent service availability. Loon and Telkom have said that they 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.
In its initial stage, the service will cover a region spanning nearly 50,000 sq.km, including the areas of Iten, Eldoret, Baringo, Nakuru, Kakamega, Kisumu, Kisii, Bomet, Kericho, and Narok.
The companies note that 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.
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 digitised and automated platforms to enable the consumer still access service, the new normal.
Loon’s Chief Executive Officer, Alastair Westgarth, stated that the availability of the service is the culmination of years of work and collaboration between Loon, Telkom, and the government. He thanked the governmental stakeholders and various government agencies for the support and engagement that had made it possible to usher in Africa’s first application of the innovative technology
To provide service in Kenya, the companies 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.
In light of the spread of COVID-19, Telkom and Loon are working fast to realize service deployment. This is in a bid to 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 connect targeted communities to emergency services, as well as ensure enhanced and alternative communication options during this time.