The Kenyan government has finally given formal approval for Alphabet’s Loon balloons to operate in the stratosphere above the country, but the full impact won’t be immediate.
That’s because while Loon can begin dispatching existing airborne balloons, it takes time to prepare new ones to launch from the U.S. and navigate them to Kenya on the stratospheric winds 20 km above Earth.
“This process takes time, and we expect it to be a number of weeks before Loon’s balloons arrive in Kenya. Once there, we will conduct the final stages of network integration testing with Telkom Kenya. Following that, we will be able to begin providing service to Kenyans,” wrote Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth in a blog post.
“Given the global situation with COVID-19, we’re working as fast as we can to deploy the Loon service in Kenya to help in the short-term, and establish sustainable operations that will continue to serve Kenyans for the long term,” Westgarth added.
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Like many businesses, Loon’s operations have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the short term, it has reduced operational capacity at its launch sites and it can’t conduct business as usual due to travel restrictions.
4G coverage over Kenya
In Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta said the balloons will hover well above Kenya's commercial airspace and carry 4G base stations that have the capacity to provide wider signal coverage.
The development will enable Telkom Kenya and Loon to start the commercial rollout of a 4G data network in the country. The two companies have been working together for the past two years. Once inaugurated, the service will extend Telkom Kenya’s 4G network to areas that are not covered by any of Kenya’s existing mobile network providers, he said.
“I note the gesture by Google Loon and Telkom to offer their 4G service to support our efforts in surveillance and management of coronavirus infections, and this will go a long way in containing the present health challenge,” he said in an address posted to YouTube. “Indeed, access to these services will keep Kenyans connected to emergency services and to their loved ones” whether isolated or in quarantine or working from home or their usual work places.
It will also enable teachers and students to access educational materials remotely so students can continue learning from home.