Skip to main content

Alphabet’s Loon balloons provide their first commercial internet service in Kenya

Alphabet’s Loon balloons provide their first commercial internet service in Kenya

/

A 35-balloon fleet will provide internet across 50,000 square kilometers

Share this story

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.

Download speeds of 18.9Mbps have been recorded

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.

The company’s balloons (or “flight vehicles” as it calls them) hover at a height of roughly 20 km, analyzing the weather to ride around on stratospheric winds. Individual balloons can alternate between providing internet connectivity directly and acting as a link in the mesh network. The New York Times notes that they stay up in the air for over 100 days before coming back down to earth. Loon says the aim of its balloons isn’t to replace satellite connectivity or ground-based technologies like cell towers or fiber optic cables, but to offer a “third layer” of connectivity to help get more people connected to the internet worldwide.

However, the Times reports that the company has been criticized for launching its balloons in parts of the country that already have developed internet infrastructure and that some people in poorer areas of Kenya can’t afford the phones needed to connect to its 4G service.

Going forward, Loon says it hopes to offer internet connectivity as part of more commercial services around the world. It also has several other projects in the pipeline. It plans to offer internet access to remote parts of the Amazon this year via a partnership with Internet Para Todos Perú, and it’s also signed an agreement with Telesat to use its networking software to manage the company’s low Earth orbit satellites. Finally, it’s partnered with AT&T in preparation to use its balloons to provide internet service to disaster-stricken areas and with Vodacom to provide internet to Mozambique.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed 15 minutes ago Dimorphos didn’t even see it coming

R
Twitter
Richard Lawler15 minutes ago
A direct strike at 14,000 mph.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) scored a hit on the asteroid Dimorphos, but as Mary Beth Griggs explains, the real science work is just beginning.

Now planetary scientists will wait to see how the impact changed the asteroid’s orbit, and to download pictures from DART’s LICIACube satellite which had a front-row seat to the crash.


M
The Verge
Mary Beth GriggsTwo hours ago
We’re about an hour away from a space crash.

At 7:14PM ET, a NASA spacecraft is going to smash into an asteroid! Coverage of the collision — called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test — is now live.


E
Twitter
Emma RothTwo hours ago
There’s a surprise in the sky tonight.

Jupiter will be about 367 million miles away from Earth this evening. While that may seem like a long way, it’s the closest it’s been to our home planet since 1963.

During this time, Jupiter will be visible to the naked eye (but binoculars can help). You can check where and when you can get a glimpse of the gas giant from this website.


Asian America learns how to hit back

The desperate, confused, righteous campaign to stop Asian hate

Esther WangSep 26
E
Twitter
Emma RothSep 26
Missing classic Mario?

One fan, who goes by the name Metroid Mike 64 on Twitter, just built a full-on 2D Mario game inside Super Mario Maker 2 complete with 40 levels and eight worlds.

Looking at the gameplay shared on Twitter is enough to make me want to break out my SNES, or at least buy Super Mario Maker 2 so I can play this epic retro revamp.


R
External Link
Russell BrandomSep 26
The US might still force TikTok into a data security deal with Oracle.

The New York Times says the White House is still working on TikTok’s Trump-era data security deal, which has been in a weird limbo for nearly two years now. The terms are basically the same: Oracle plays babysitter but the app doesn’t get banned. Maybe it will happen now, though?


R
External Link
Russell BrandomSep 26
Edward Snowden has been granted Russian citizenship.

The NSA whistleblower has been living in Russia for the 9 years — first as a refugee, then on a series of temporary residency permits. He applied for Russian citizenship in November 2020, but has said he won’t renounce his status as a U.S. citizen.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 26
Netflix’s gaming bet gets even bigger.

Even though fewer than one percent of Netflix subscribers have tried its mobile games, Netflix just opened up another studio in Finland after acquiring the Helsinki-based Next Games earlier this year.

The former vice president of Zynga Games, Marko Lastikka, will serve as the studio director. His track record includes working on SimCity BuildIt for EA and FarmVille 3.


A
External Link
Vietnam’s EV aspirant is giving big Potemkin village vibes

Idle equipment, absent workers, deserted villages, an empty swimming pool. VinFast is Vietnam’s answer to Tesla, with the goal of making 1 million EVs in the next 5-6 years to sell to customers US, Canada and Europe. With these lofty goals, the company invited a bunch of social media influencers, as well as some auto journalists, on a “a four-day, multicity extravaganza” that seemed more weird than convincing, according to Bloomberg.


J
James VincentSep 26
Today, 39 years ago, the world didn’t end.

And it’s thanks to one man: Stanislav Petrov, a USSR military officer who, on September 26th, 1983, took the decision not to launch a retaliatory nuclear attack against the US. Petrov correctly guessed that satellite readings showing inbound nukes were faulty, and so likely saved the world from nuclear war. As journalist Tom Chivers put it on Twitter, “Happy Stanislav Petrov Day to those who celebrate!” Read more about Petrov’s life here.


Soviet Colonel who prevented 1983 nuclear response
Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images
J
The Verge
James VincentSep 26
Deepfakes were made for Disney.

You might have seen the news this weekend that the voice of James Earl Jones is being cloned using AI so his performance as Darth Vader in Star Wars can live on forever.

Reading the story, it struck me how perfect deepfakes are for Disney — a company that profits from original characters, fans' nostalgia, and an uncanny ability to twist copyright law to its liking. And now, with deepfakes, Disney’s most iconic performances will live on forever, ensuring the magic never dies.


E
External Link
Hurricane Fiona ratcheted up tensions about crypto bros in Puerto Rico.

“An official emergency has been declared, which means in the tax program, your physical presence time is suspended,” a crypto investor posted on TikTok. “So I am headed out of the island.” Perhaps predictably, locals are furious.


R
The Verge
Richard LawlerSep 26
Teen hacking suspect linked to GTA 6 leak and Uber security breach charged in London.

City of London police tweeted Saturday that the teenager arrested on suspicion of hacking has been charged with “two counts of breach of bail conditions and two counts of computer misuse.”

They haven’t confirmed any connection with the GTA 6 leak or Uber hack, but the details line up with those incidents, as well as a suspect arrested this spring for the Lapsus$ breaches.