The internet continues to balloon to all aspects of society. But in Kenya, that ballooning is taken a bit more literally. The company Loon, a sister business of Google, has launched a fleet of solar-powered balloons to deliver 4G broadband internet service to residents across remote areas of the country, through service provider Telkom. Loon claims that balloon-powered internet is far cheaper in the area than installing traditional ground cables or towers, and will be able to deliver speeds as fast as 18.9 Mbps download and 4.74 Mbps upload.
Service began on July 7 with a small fleet of balloons that is expected to grow to a total of 35, covering 31,000 square miles of land across the western and central parts of Kenya. Nairobi, the capital and largest city, will see improved internet service, as will urban and rural parts of Iten, Eldoret, Baringo, Nakuru, Kakamega, Kisumu, Kisii, Bomet, Kericho, and Narok. The company’s goal is to eventually use this technology to provide internet access to as many of the 3.8 billion people globally who don’t have it, though expansion may depend on the success of its operations in Kenya.
The balloons themselves are massive — nearly the size of a football field, according to Dezeen — and are powered by two 90-foot-tall automated machines. The balloons rise to the stratosphere, where they hover in constant motion while beaming 4G signals to service stations and devices located on the ground below. While they’re monitored by workers on the ground, the movement of the balloons is actually directed by machine-learning algorithms that attempt to keep them in areas where the signal is strongest.