COVID-19 Outbreak Leads To Alphabet’s Loon Project Taking Flight In Kenya

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Written by Peter Pedroncelli
internet access Loon project
The COVID-19 outbreak has led to Alphabet’s Loon Project taking flight in Kenya as Kenyans are asked to work from home to avoid the virus spreading. Image Source: Loon.

The Kenyan government has asked its citizens to work from home where possible to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Kenya has 28 confirmed coronavirus cases and three deaths.

With an increased reliance on remote work and the need for wider online access, Kenya has given Google parent Alphabet the green light to launch its internet-emitting high-altitude balloons, according to ITWebAfrica.

The goal is to provide internet access to remote and underserved areas in the country.

Loon is a company owned by Google-parent Alphabet that provides internet access via helium-powered balloons. 

Ground stations in internet-enabled areas beam an internet signal to high-altitude balloons capable of providing a connection to distant areas that do not have internet coverage. 

The project had stalled for more than a year at the final approval stage but the coronavirus outbreak has been the catalyst for the Kenyan government to expedite approval, according to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

“To foster communication and enable Kenyans to retain enhanced remote access to their offices and enterprises my administration has granted approvals that will ensure the universal 4G data coverage is available throughout our country,” President Kenyatta said in a statement.

The Loon project began in 2013 as part of Alphabet’s effort to provide internet access to unconnected communities worldwide, mostly in poorer countries. 

In July 2018, Telkom Kenya became the first mobile operator to partner with the Loon project, according to DailyMaverick.

Earlier in March, Kenya’s leading mobile operator Safaricom doubled internet speeds for its fiber network subscribers for 90 days to support remote workers as the country enforced a work from home order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

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Of the 800 million people worldwide who live in areas without internet coverage, 44 percent — around 352 million people — are in sub-Saharan Africa, the World Economic Forum reports.

Kenya has an internet penetration rate of 89.7 percent — a very high penetration in the sub-Saharan African region. By comparison, neighbors Uganda have a penetration rate of 23 percent, according to a 2019 report by the GSM Association.

Project Loon will enable better quality internet access in Kenya, especially in rural and remote areas as the high-altitude balloons act as floating base stations that transmit mobile coverage further than what was previously available.