Back in August 2017, Google showed the intention to test the use of “internet balloons” to deliver 4G network connectivity to remote areas in Kenya. The initiative knowns as Project Loon then tested the feasibility of the project in Nakuru, Nanyuki, Nyeri and Marsabit.
In 2019, Google partnered with Telkom Kenya to deploy Project Loon to help improve the telco’s network coverage in rural Kenya. Despite this announcement, the project never really took off following bureaucracy and regulatory issues in the country.
However, as a measure to curb the effects of COVID-19 in the country, President Uhuru Kenyatta has announced that Google is now free to use their balloons in Kenya.
“The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority has signed an agreement with Google Loon in order to allow Loon balloons over Kenyan airspace. These balloons which will hover above our commercial airspace will carry 4G base stations and have the capacity to provide wider signal coverage,” said the President.
“This is to enable Kenyans access internet as they work from home,” he added.
How Project Loon Works
The concept behind Project Loon is quite simple; the balloons carry wireless network-connected devices that connect to existing base towers and then beam 4G signal across a wider area that otherwise would not be covered by the cell tower.
In other words, these are floating base stations that make it easier for mobile networks to reach remote areas as setting up physical base stations would be expensive.
Project Loon + Telkom Kenya
As with the initial testing phase, Project Loon’s now commercial service with the “internet balloons” is still in partnership with Telkom Kenya.
This means that Telkom will now have a wider network coverage of their 4G network, especially in remote areas.
President Uhuru also said that the approval of the service was made to enable teachers and students to access education material remotely to enable learning to continue at home.
What do you think of Project Loon? Will this improve Telkom Kenya’s coverage issues and will it actually help Kenyans during this COVID-19 crisis?