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Company to Use Balloons to Bring More Internet to Kenya

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Part of an American company has announced plans to deploy a system of balloons over Kenya.

Loon, a business of Alphabet Inc, says it is working with the telecommunications company Telkom Kenya on the balloon project. The goal is to offer high-speed internet service in rural areas and communities outside major cities.

This is Alphabet Inc’s first commercial deal in Africa. The Reuters news agency says the program will be called Project Loon.

The technology was developed by Alphabet’s X, the laboratory which invents products for the company. Alphabet X is now called Loon. It is a separate company owned by Alphabet, which operates Google.

FILE - Visitors stand next to a high altitude WiFi internet hub, a Google Project Loon balloon, on display at the Air force Museum in Christchurch.
FILE - Visitors stand next to a high altitude WiFi internet hub, a Google Project Loon balloon, on display at the Air force Museum in Christchurch.

In the United States, telecommunications businesses are already using this kind of technology. It was used to provide connectivity to more than 250,000 people on the island of Puerto Rico after a power storm last year.

Kenya hopes the technology can help provide full internet coverage to its population. Telkom Kenya is the third biggest internet provider in the country after Safaricom and Bharti Airtel’s Kenyan unit. Currently, Safaricom is the market leader in the country.

“We will work very hard with Loon, to deliver the first commercial mobile service, as quickly as possible, using Loon’s balloon-powered Internet in Africa,” said Aldo Mareuse, the chief executive of Telkom Kenya.

The Loon service uses balloons, which are powered by solar equipment. They float at a height of 18-thousand meters above sea level, well above air traffic, wildlife, and weather events, Loon said.

Kenya is home to more than 45 million people. Telecommunications companies provide service to major cities and towns. But large areas of rural Kenya are not covered.

A Microsoft Corporation-supported Kenyan start-up has been using television frequencies to connect some of those rural communities.

I’m Phil Dierking.

Duncan Miri wrote this story for Reuters News Agency. Phil Dierking adapted the story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Do you know other creative ways to connect rural areas to the internet? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

commercial - adj. related to or used in the buying and selling of goods and services

executive - n. a person who manages or directs other people in a company or organization​

frequency - n. the number of times that something (such as a sound wave or radio wave) is repeated in a period of time (such as a second)​

mobile - adj. able to move from one place to another​

solar - n. produced by or using the sun's light or heat​

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