Loon’s fleet of bal­loons brings in­ter­net to swathes of Kenya

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Technology Intelligen­ce - By Margi Mur­phy

in San Fran­cisco LOON, a unit of Google’s par­ent com­pany Al­pha­bet, has launched its high­alti­tude in­ter­net bal­loons in Kenya in a bid to bring tens of thou­sands of peo­ple on­line.

A fleet of 35 bal­loons, 12 miles in the strato­sphere, will pro­vide 4G ser­vices to sub­scribers of Telkom Kenya, the coun­try’s third big­gest tele­coms op­er­a­tor. To­gether, the fleet will cover 20,000 square miles across western and cen­tral ar­eas of the coun­try.

It is the first non-emer­gency use of Loon to pro­vide the in­ter­net on a large scale, and the first time bal­loon-pow­ered in­ter­net has been used in Africa.

The bal­loons were pre­vi­ously used to of­fer emer­gency ser­vices to over 200,000 peo­ple fol­low­ing Hur­ri­cane Maria in Puerto Rico.

Alastair West­garth, Loon’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, said that it would be one of many com­mer­cial launches around the world. “Frankly, I didn’t think it would work,” he said. “It seemed too crazy, even for a com­pany with a rep­u­ta­tion for mak­ing the out­landish pos­si­ble.

“What once seemed out­landish is now prov­ing my for­mer self wrong with ev­ery per­son con­nected and ev­ery megabyte of data con­sumed from the strato­sphere.

“What we’re see­ing in Kenya to­day is the lay­ing of the foun­da­tion for a third layer of con­nec­tiv­ity.”

Al­pha­bet be­gan test­ing the ser­vice in March and has al­ready seen in­ter­net speeds that sup­port voice and video calls, What­sApp, email, tex­ting and web brows­ing, Mr West­garth said.

Loon’s de­vices con­duct a “bal­loon dance” to help form a net­work over larger ar­eas of land by float­ing on strato­spheric winds and work­ing to­gether to pro­vide cov­er­age to the ar­eas be­low.

They are launched to 60,000ft – dou­ble the height of typ­i­cal flight paths. Nav­i­ga­tional al­go­rithms di­rect the bal­loons, al­low­ing them to ma­noeu­vre the winds.

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