Loon's first commercial internet balloon deal is in Kenya


The company says it will work with partner Telkom Kenya to deliver 4G/LTE cellular access to Kenya in 2019.

Loon became the fourth firm that emerged from Alphabet's X lab project and joined other subsidiaries to become Google's sister company, such as smart-thermostat maker Nest, health-data firm Verily and self-driving auto operator Waymo. Loon's solution works by using hot-air balloons to essentially act as floating cell towers that can beam 4G access to smartphone owners down below.

Google's sister company Loon announced Thursday that it is cooperating with a Kenya telecom firm to deploy a high-altitude balloon system to provide Internet service next year to remote rural and suburban areas in Kenya. This marks the first time Loon has inked a commercial deal with an African nation.

The balloons were used by U.S. telecom operators to provide connectivity to more than 250,000 people in Puerto Rico after a hurricane in 2017.

The companies will begin the offering in central Kenya, which features many hard-to-reach settlements due to its mountainous landscape. Kenya hopes the technology can help achieve full Internet coverage of its population.

Alastair Westgarth, Chief Executive of Loon told Reuters that, "Loon's mission is to connect people everywhere by inventing and integrating audacious technologies".

The balloons themselves are created to float for more than 100 days at a height of 60,000 feet. "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".

With more than 45 million people, Kenya's major cities and towns are covered by operator networks, but vast swathes of rural Kenya are not covered.