Alphabet’s Loon division, which uses floating balloons to provide internet, has today launched its first commercial service in Kenya. In a blog post announcing the news, Loon’s CEO Alastair Westgarth said that the 4G LTE service will be provided to Telkom Kenya subscribers via a fleet of around 35 balloons, covering an area of around 50,000 square kilometers across western and central areas of the country, including its capital, Nairobi.
It’s a significant step for Loon, which started as a moonshot project in Alphabet’s X division before being spun out into its own company in 2018. The company’s balloons have already provided internet connectivity in the wake of disasters, like in Puerto Rico in 2017 after Hurricane Maria or in Peru after an earthquake in 2019, but never as part of a large-scale commercial deployment.
Loon has been testing its balloons in Kenya for several months now, and it says that in that time, it’s already connected 35,000 unique users to the internet, “although most didn’t realize it.” The company says that it achieved a downlink speed of 18.9Mbps back in June, along with an uplink speed of 4.74Mbps and a latency of 19ms, and that it’s tested a range of services — including email, voice and video calls, web browsing, WhatsApp, and YouTube viewing — on its service.