Google subsidiary company Loon has revealed that it has signed a deal with the Kenyan government to bring high speed internet access to remote and rural areas of Kenya using hot air balloons… 

Loon have partnered with Telkom Kenya to bring connectivity to areas of Kenya that aren’t currently covered by mobile networks. 

Google’s high-altitude balloons were originally developed as a concept under the Project Loon moniker as part of its former experimental division, X.  

project-loon

A Loon Balloon in a room.

After a series of successful test runs, Loon has now agreed its first commercial deal. 

“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,” said Aldo Mareuse, chief executive of Telkom, talking to the BBC. 

Google first publicly unveiled its super high-pressure internet balloons back in 2013, when it tested the concept by launching over 20 of small balloons in New Zealand. While the original speed was limited to 3G, speeds are now comparable with standard mobile internet speeds. 

Higher than a 747

Loon’s balloons float high in the stratosphere at around a height 20km (12.4 miles) above sea level; a height the company says is out of range of air traffic, storms and wildlife. 

“Mike Cassidy, vice-president of Project Loon, told the BBC in 2015, when Loon commenced a similar project in Indonesia: “In the early days, the balloons would last five or seven or 10 days. Now we have had balloons that have lasted as long as 187 days [and it] used to take 14 people an hour or two to launch a balloon, now with an automated crane we can launch a balloon every 15 minutes with two or three people.” 

One of the many benefits of using balloons to bring the internet to remote locations is that it negates the need for building expensive physical connectivity infrastructure over difficult terrain.