Telkom Kenya opens African skies to Loon

Alonzo Simpson
July 22, 2018

Loon and Telkom plan to launch the internet service next year (although this is subject to regulatory approval) and Telkom's boss Aldo Mareuse explained the telecoms business is committed to rolling out the service as quickly as possible.

Loon became its own company only last week - having started in 2016 as a project at X, Google parent Alphabet's research-and-development facility.

They are powered by an on-board solar panel, to provide broadband coverage to lower population density areas. Most recently, the company's balloons were used in Puerto Rico to provide emergency 4G/LTE service to 100,000 people following the devastation from Hurricane Maria.

The pilot project will focus on central Kenya, which the operator stated is a challenging area to cover due to mountainous and inaccessible terrain.

"Our path to success as a company is through providing value to mobile network partners like Telkom Kenya and helping them extend their reach to places where ground-based infrastructure can't go", Loon Chief Executive Officer Alastair Westgarth explained on Medium.

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The provision of this high speed internet service will make it Alphabet's first commercial deal in Africa.

Kenya's ICT ministry has since lauded the move saying it will bring down costs and deepen internet use across all segments of the population.

These balloons float at 60,000 feet above the sea level which is enough to float above the air traffic, wildlife, and weather events so it won't cause inconvenience.

Loon did not reveal the deal's financial terms, but Westgarth said that it involves the telecommunications company Telkom Kenya.

The country's major cities and towns are covered by operator networks, but large parts of rural Kenya are not.

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