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Brief Published: 14 Jul 2020

First Commercial Internet Balloon Launches in Kenya

Each balloon is the size of a tennis court

Californian internet company Loon launched its first commercial high-flying internet balloons in Kenya this month. As internet connection has proved an essential asset during the pandemic, the launch highlights a wider need for brands to deliver connectivity to underserved communities around the world.

Located 12 miles up in the stratosphere, the balloons provide 4G LTE network connection across 50,000 sq kmof central and western Kenya. Launched in conjunction with Telkom Kenya, Loon has so far connected more than 35,000 unique users, enabling them to stream video, browse websites and make video and voice calls on applications like WhatsApp.

The company offers a more cost-effective option by allowing coverage where cell towers are too expensive to build, democratising internet access. As only 28% of Africa’s 1.3 billion population were using the internet in 2019 (ITU, 2019), the project is helping to cater to the continent’s burgeoning demand for connectivity. For more ways that brands can support the digitally disconnected, see Facilitating New Connections in Collision from Home 2020, and Inclusive Education in Future-Proof Education

The launch marks the first commercial use of the technology, which previously has only been tested in emergencies, such as providing service in Peru last year when the country suffered an 8.0 magnitude earthquake. In a blog post, Loon’s chief executive Alastair Westgarth said that the balloons’ responsivedesign “also opens up new opportunities for [Loon’s] mobile network operator partners, such as enabling them to respond to seasonal or fluctuating customer demand with more flexibility”.

Loon, a unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet, demonstrates how brands can get involved with altruistic projects while retaining commercial viability (the more people connected to the internet via Loon, the more consumers Google can reach).

Consumer demand for online connection in Africa is only set to grow, as the continent’s population is projected to rise to 4.3 billion by 2100 (Pew Research, 2019). For more insights into the window of opportunity for brands in Africa, see Africa’s Youth Opportunity.