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Telkom Kenya ends internet balloon project

By Fredrick Obura | January 22nd 2021
A Loon balloon. Google parent company, Alphabet, shut down Loon saying the internet balloon business was not commercially viable.

Telkom Kenya’s ambitious plan to reach out to remote areas through Internet balloon project is in jeopardy following change of business plan by its key partners in the project

Telkom Kenya was piloting the project with Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc.

However, Alphabet Inc announced shutting down its internet balloon business, Loon, which aimed to provide a less expensive alternative to cell towers, saying on Thursday that it was not commercially viable.

Founded in 2011, Loon aimed to bring connectivity to areas of the world where building cell towers is too expensive or treacherous by using balloons the length of tennis courts to float solar-powered networking gear high above the Earth. But the wireless carriers that Loon saw as buyers of its technology have questioned its technical and political viability.

“While we have found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business,” Loon Chief Executive Alastair Westgarth said in a blog post.

Telkom Kenya’s partnership with Loon was expected to deliver Internet connectivity to some of Kenya’s most inaccessible regions.

Telkom and Loon announced the availability of mobile Internet service via the Loon technology to Kenyans, starting July 2020.

The service was to initially cover a region spanning nearly 50,000 sq.km., including the areas of Iten, Eldoret, Baringo, Nakuru, Kakamega, Kisumu, Kisii, Bomet, Kericho, and Narok.

In a statement on Friday the company said it will suspend the project on March 1 this year. During the period upto the deadline date the Loon team will work closely with Telkom to ensure the operations of the technology’s pilot service are wrapped up safely and smoothly

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“Telkom believes in taking bold decisions, It was very exciting therefore, to partner with like-minded pioneers in the adoption and usage of innovative technologies such as Loon, with the aim of filling in the internet access gaps in areas that were difficult to service,” said Telkom Kenya CEO Mugo Kibati.


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