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A Bird? A Plane? No, It’s a Google Balloon Beaming the Internet

  • July 07, 2020

By allowing phone companies to expand their coverage where needed, the balloons are intended to offer countries a cheaper option than laying cables or building cell towers.

This could be effective in Africa, where just over 28 percent of the continent’s 1.3 billion people were using the internet in 2019 — the lowest rate in any region worldwide — according to the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency. And even as more users have come online, internet costs remain too high for many Africans.

The Kenyan authorities have said the balloons will help the country retain its competitive advantage in technological innovation. In the course of the testing that led up to Tuesday’s launch, over 35,000 users on the Telkom network connected to the internet through a Loon balloon. The users, some in remote towns in Kenya, used the service to stream video, browse websites and make video and voice calls on applications like WhatsApp.

Executives with Loon would not reveal the costs of the Telkom contract or any financial arrangements.

Loon, which is based in California and started operating in 2011, is one of the so-called moonshots to emerge from Alphabet’s research and development lab, known as X. Loon was spun off into a separate company in 2018 with the mandate to be a viable enterprise of its own. Other companies that have emerged from X include Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car unit.

Loon delivered emergency service to over 200,000 people in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, in collaboration with ATT and T-Mobile.

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