Mediamax Network Limited

Firm tests 7 stations to deliver Internet

Zachary Ochuodho @zachuodho

Internet firm Loon, which is set to launch connectivity in Kenya next year after partnering with Telkom Kenya, has sent a test Internet balloon covering 1,000 kilometres.

This will allow the company, which uses high-altitude balloons placed in the stratosphere at an altitude of nearly 20km to create an aerial wireless network with up to 4G-LTE, to provide Internet access to remote regions in  rural Kenya.

The 1,000km represents a distance that can cover the entire country from the Port of Mombasa to Kenya-Uganda border. The test carried out in the US last month marks a positive step towards the rollout of service next year in Kenya.

This comes a few weeks after the team attained another milestone by sending a single connection across two balloons 600km apart — the longest single link to date.

“For a long time, a fundamental constraint of connectivity has been proximity, or a lack thereof, to where the Internet is now. Loon is working to change this reality by making the Internet reach further. With billions of people lacking connectivity, there’s a lot of ground to cover. As we prepare to launch commercial service starting in 2019, our ability to make connections across more balloons and longer distances will be a key enabler of our efforts to connect people everywhere,” Salvatore Candido, Loon’s Head of Engineering said in a blog post.

Loon partnered with Telkom Kenya to provide balloon-powered internet in some unconnected and under-connected parts of Kenya two months ago.

By sending connections across multiple balloons, Loon is not simply extending the signal to the last balloon in the line to serve users under its position, but is capable of passing a connection along while simultaneously transmitting it to users on the ground.

This means that instead of one balloon utilizing one ground-based connection point to serve users, that same connection point can be used to power multiple balloons, all of which can transmit service to people below.

Combined with the Loon system’s larger coverage area – between 20 to 30 times greater than a traditional ground-based system – this will allow Loon to connect more people without having to build lots of new ground infrastructure – a key obstacle to providing connectivity to those in underserved areas.