We may take our access to the internet for granted, but more than 40 percent of the global population still can’t connect to the web. With this in mind, Alphabet’s internet-beaming Project Loon has set off on a mission to overcome this digital divide, starting in Kenya.
Project Loon is a venture cooked up in one of Google’s innovation labs and is hoped to connect large sections of the global population that currently don’t have access to the internet.
Its technology involves solar-powered balloons that are fitted out with communications instruments and sent into the stratosphere, where machine-learning algorithms guide them into tight networks that provide connectivity to those on the ground below.
After a series of test runs and stints serving disaster-struck populations in Puerto Rico and Peru, the company has now deployed its high-flying communications aircraft over Kenya, where they are providing thousands of folks with an entirely novel form of internet access.
The service is not only the first commercial deployment of Loon’s balloons but also the first time such a technology has been put to use in Africa. The service area covers almost 50,000 sq km (19,300 sq mi) of central and western Kenya, with more than 35,000 unique users connected to the network so far.
And the best of it all, the internet delivered by the balloons is no slouch, with recent testing showing upload speeds of 4.74 Mbps. Project Loon expects the reliability of the service to improve as more balloons are added, though it has already shown to be capable of supporting YouTube, WhatsApp, email and web-browsing.