Balloons bring internet to Kenya's rural Rift Valley

The world’s first ever commercial high-speed internet service to use balloons to connect people to the web was launched in a remote region of Kenya’s Rift Valley this week.

A Loon internet balloon being tested at an unknown location.
A Loon internet balloon being tested at an unknown location. © AFP, FRANCE 24

Operated by Loon, part of Google parent company Alphabet, the service aims to bring affordable 4G internet to people in rural locations.

The balloons connect with internet ground stations and then communicate with each other to form a network of transmitters in the sky and initially will cover a region of 50,000 sq km, providing internet to 35,000 customers.

“Loon is finally in Kenya. Kenya being the first country in the world to commercialise the technology. This is basically base stations up even beyond where the planes are,” Joe Mucheru, Kenyan information minister, told Reuters as he launched the service on Wednesday.

Loon’s technology has been in development for a while and was first made public in 2013, but it has not been used commercially until now.

The helium-filled balloons carry a solar panel and battery, and float in the upper atmosphere, high above airplanes and weather.

They are launched from bases in California and Puerto Rico and then flown remotely to their destination

A total of 35 balloons will be used for the Kenya network, which is being run in partnership with Telkom Kenya.

“This will help me reach out to people even in the diaspora, because it has really been hard due to poor network around here,” honey vendor Dorcas Kipteroi told Reuters.

“We are sometimes left behind when it comes to communication, and you want to send some honey to people but the mode of communication becomes a challenge.”

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