Telkom Kenya, in partnership with Alphabet’s Loon Project, has launched their first commercial flight in Kenya.
The service is finally out of testing after being grounded for two years over regulatory hurdles after launching in 2018. The project was given a green light by the government in March after schools shutdown and movement was restricted in and out of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
Loon’s launch in Kenya is the first application of balloon-powered internet in Africa.
Utilizing a fleet of around 35 ballons, the balloons can beam 4G LTE signals to cover nearly 50,000 square kilometers. Currently, the project is providing signals to Telkom subscribers across western and central. Areas covered include Iten, Eldoret, Baringo, Nakuru, Kakamega, Kisumu, Kisii, Bomet, Kericho, and Narok.
Loon hasn’t achieved the said fleet size, yet. According to Loon’s CEO Alastair Westgarth, they will be able to do that “in the coming weeks” to ensure stable connectivity.
In tests performed in June, the service achieved 18.9Mbps in downlink speed and uplink speed of 4.74Mpbs and 19 milliseconds (ms) latency.
So far, over 35,000 Telkom subscribers have used the 4G signals beamed from the balloons since testing commenced, most of them, without realizing it. These users have been able to use the balloon-powered signals for OTT voice and video calling, streaming, web connectivity, and more.
The team says throughout the testing period, they’ve used the service for all sorts of applications. From voice calls to video calls, texting, WhatsApp, browsing, and more.
Unlike using traditional cell towers that are expensive to put up, Loon uses balloons to beam 4G LTE signals to areas with no sufficient network coverage. It’s cheap to deploy and flexible.