Internet in KenyaLoon, a company division of Google, is using balloons to provide internet in Kenya. The Kenyan government is collaborating with Loon to provide more substantial 4G coverage since many areas of Kenya have poor service. In the future, Loon hopes to expand to other areas in Sub-Saharan Africa. Loon is hoping to expedite the process of sending balloons to Kenya because of the increased demand for information during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Importance of Internet Access

UNESCO estimates that 45% of households worldwide do not have internet access. In Africa, 72% of people are unable to use the internet because companies do not see the need to travel to remote locations with less robust populations. Loon is looking to change these statistics by focusing its services in remote areas so people can use apps to communicate with each other.

Internet services help empower people in poverty by offering opportunities for education. Many students in rural areas do not have schools near them, so students rely on quality education through the internet. The Kenya Education Network (KENET) works to bring internet and laptops to various schools in Kenya. KENET has already invested $2 million in supplying free high-speed internet. The internet has become an essential need for educational purposes; Loon’s work will elevate people’s access to these important services.

Are Balloons Reliable To Provide Internet Access?

Loon used its balloons in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria destroyed the cellular towers. The balloons were deployed to provide immediate internet access for people on the island. Before the official launch, Loon tested out 35 balloons, which led to 35 thousand people being able to access the internet in rural Kenya.

Now that Loon is working to send out more balloons, the company is hoping to cover 31 thousand miles. The balloons are effective for providing internet coverage because they work like normal cell towers. The signal is transmitted for 100 days by software controlled from the ground.

The Future of Reliable Internet In Kenya

Loon expects to deploy more balloons in the future through a partnership with Telkom Kenya. Kenya is one of the leading technological countries in Africa. From 2019 to 2020, an increase of 3.2 million people accessed the internet in Kenya.

One of the barriers for people in poverty in accessing the internet is high-cost data plans. Kenya has higher data prices than other surrounding countries. An unlimited data plan in Nigeria can cost around $26, but the same plan in Kenya allows for only 50GB of data. In Kenya, 36.1% of people live below the poverty line, so many Kenyans do not make more than $1 each day. Cellular data plans are still unobtainable for some of the population.

While the Kenyan government is looking to provide a better signal to rural areas, residents may not have the money to pay for cellular services. Access to more service areas through Loon and cheaper data prices through Telkom Kenya could help increase people’s connectivity.

Sarah Litchney
Photo: Pixabay

Loon Balloons
For many, the internet is a constant, invisible presence. This powerful network allows people to connect through social media, check the weather, or even further their education. For this privileged group, complaints about slow Wifi are commonplace and accepted. This constant exposure often produces an incorrect assumption that the internet is always available. In certain areas, however, connecting to the internet is impossible. In fact, almost half of the world’s population lacks basic internet and all of its subsequent benefits—informational, communication and entertainment. However, Loon, a subsidiary of Google, has developed a unique solution to this problem. Thanks to Loon, balloons can deliver an internet connection to remote areas from the stratosphere.

How It Works

From afar, Loon balloons look like high-tech hot air balloons. On closer inspection, it becomes clear just how complex the technology is. Each balloon is about as big as a tennis court; the material is a thin layer of polyethylene that allows the device to float above the clouds. The other components of the balloons are referred to as the “bus” and the “payload” by Loon. The bus contains navigational technology, while the payload is essentially a small cell tower that interacts with devices in the area.

Multiple balloons work together to create a network in the sky. This establishes the ability to communicate with ground stations thousands of miles away, making it possible to deliver an internet connection to remote areas without having to construct new infrastructure. The balloons’ maneuverability also helps to expand the area of coverage. Additionally, aerial coverage as opposed to ground coverage reduces operational costs. The result is an efficient network that has offered internet coverage across 40 million kilometers of the world.

Loon Projects in Kenya

As Loon’s CEO told the New York Times, Loon partnered with Telkom Kenya to “begin [a] new era of stratospheric communications.” With this partnership, Kenya aims to encourage technological advances in its nation as well as expand connectivity networks. Earlier this month, the results were encouraging. Over 35,000 people connected to Loon balloons and were granted internet connection, some of which were from remote villages previously cut off from the myriad of services on the internet. Internet connection has become more vital than ever amid the COVID-19 pandemic; millions are staying home and relying on technology for work, education and entertainment. In these times of crisis, Loon balloons in Kenya offer an important solution for rural areas needing access to educational materials and virtual resources.

Natural Disaster Aid

Loon balloons can also be an important asset during natural disasters. This was exemplified in 2017 when Peru and parts of the Amazon experienced severe flooding. The rain and floods disabled ground infrastructure and left people stranded without communication. An internet connection was necessary to identify those who needed help and to bring aid to certain areas. The balloons, safe above stormy clouds, were then sent in to provide internet access during this natural disaster.

Extended launch hours allowed Loon balloons in Peru to be launched 40% faster to accommodate the emergency situation, and this solution was both successful and revolutionary. These balloons brought the internet to tens of thousands of people suffering in flood zones, allowing for the organization of aid efforts as well as communication between families.

Loon balloons have the ability to erase disparities in internet access. This technology can greatly increase the percentage of the world with access to the internet. This organization proves that help can sometimes come from the most unexpected of places: in this case, the clouds.

Abigail Gray
Photo: Wikimedia Commons