After nine years of R&D and testing, Google’s sister firm Loon this week announced that a fleet of balloons is now providing broadband services in Kenya. According to this post by Alastair Westgarth, Loon’s CEO, “this is a first in many ways: the first non-emergency use of Loon to provide connectivity on a large-scale basis, the first application of balloon-powered internet in Africa, and the first of what will be many commercial deployments around the world”.
Westgarth admits that “when I first heard about a crazy idea baked up in the labs of Google X to send balloons into near space to connect people in internet-less blank spots around the world. Frankly, I didn’t think it would work. It seemed too crazy, even for a company with a reputation for making the outlandish possible”.
However, as we know from our R&D team here at Telecom26, never underestimate the determination of telecoms engineers to make things happen!
Today thirty-five balloons, made of polyethylene and the size of tennis courts are hovering 12 miles above Kenya - well above the flight path. Power comes from solar panels with software on the ground. The balloons act as cell towers transmitting 4G LTE to and from ground stations and the personal devices of people living and working in a 50,000 sq km area across central and western Kenya, including the capital, Nairobi. The balloons last for around 100 days before being returned to earth.
Apparently, a recent testing session saw uplink speeds of 4.74Mpbs, downlinks of 18.9Mbps, and latency of 19 milliseconds achieved. During this session voice calls, video calls, YouTube, WhatsApp, email, texting, web browsing were all extensively used.
Telecom26, Connectivity, Telkom Kenya and Loon
Loon collaborated with Telkom Kenya, the country’s third-largest carrier, to test and launch the new service which is now available to the operator’s 3.5 million subscribers.
Telekom Kenya is just one of the 620 mobile operators in 220 countries that Telecom26 has a global roaming agreement with. So, this means that all of our customers making and receiving calls to and from Kenya will potentially be using the loon balloons now and in the future.
Roaming with our Global SIM cards
At the heart of our roaming service lies our Multi-IMSI global SIM cards which enable one SIM to access all of the networks covered by our global roaming service. Namely, 1100 cellular networks from over 620 mobile operators in 220 countries.
(As discussed in a previous blog about Global Roaming, it’s actually quite difficult to find out how many MNOs there are in the world. The GSMA says that its members include more than 750 operators but this includes fixed and satellite operators.
Our global SIMs remove the need to worry about the coverage of a single MNO, or the existence of roaming alliances. Multiple-IMSI profiles are pre-loaded (and remotely configurable) on every SIM allowing for simple reconfiguration if the primary network has poor or no service. This is all controlled via a customer administration portal.
Our Multi-IMSI global SIMs automatically select the best performing network in the area, cross-border, while providing you with the freedom to change SIM profiles and services with ease.
In a nutshell, Telecom26 enables connectivity, anywhere - so that your team can connect to the best available network, regardless of location.
For our customers, our roaming service and global SIM cards, means that, as well as seamless connectivity, they have just one mobile phone contract with one bill, one point of contact and one set of SLAs.
This week we welcome Loon as a one-step-removed partner and look forward to seeing more balloons launched to help connect the unconnected across Africa - and beyond.