Kenya has internet

Google balloons will soon provide Kenya with internet and cellular communications

In Kenya, the Internet is expected to come out of heaven in a few months. Because in the East African country, the Google company Loon is currently testing its Internet balloons. After that, the service is to be started together with a local provider for the population.

From Michael Förtsch

Around 10 years ago, Google's research laboratory X began working on balloons that could supply large areas with internet from the air. As early as 2013, the first test runs with stratospheric balloons were carried out in New Zealand and a little later also in Brazil and Puerto Rico. The developers tested a wide range of options and technologies to ensure communication under the balloons as well as with the receivers on the ground. The project has been spun off into its own company since 2018, namely Loon. It could soon test its service on its first real customers. Namely in Kenya, where many small towns and communities are not yet connected to the Internet.

For this purpose, several balloons originally launched in Puerto Rico and Nevada, USA, were sent on a flight towards Kenya. The balloons float in the atmospheric winds. They find their way almost independently via an AI software that is constantly supplied with the latest weather data. The system lets the balloon, which is powered by solar cells, rise and fall through the layers of air in order to navigate it slowly but surely to its destination. Flight observers monitor the journey, watch out for dangers and coordinate long-haul flights with air traffic control units so as not to get in the way of commercial or private aircraft.

The balloon flights can take up to several hundred days depending on the current situation. For two weeks, however, preliminary network and connection tests with the first loon balloons have been carried out over Kenya. More balloons are said to be on their way to the East African country at the moment. Because in a few months, the loon balloons, in cooperation with Telkom Kenya, will ensure reliable Internet coverage with LTE over parts of the country. A single one of the balloons floating at a height of 20 to 29 kilometers should be able to cover an area with a diameter of around 40 kilometers.

There should also be balloon internet in Peru

In order to be able to guarantee constant coverage of an area, the roughly twelve meter high and 15 meter wide balloons should follow “a carefully choreographed dance”. As a result, the individual balloons can support each other if, for example, a balloon is driven off by strong winds, which could result in a dead zone. The balloons should also be able to be withdrawn flexibly if they are needed elsewhere. In October 2017, for example, several balloons were drawn together over Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria severely damaged the cellular and landline infrastructure.

Kenya is the first country where Loon is slated to go into commercial operation - but not the only one. At the end of the year, the Google company is also expected to start supplying remote communities in the Peruvian jungle with internet and cellular communications. To this end, the company wants to work with the national communications provider Internet Para Todos. The satellite company Telesat, on the other hand, wants to use Loon's infrastructure to manage its network of satellites in low earth orbit.

Teaser image: Loon Inc.