Google takes Internet to rural Uganda via balloons

Monday December 16 2019

Google’s mother company Alphabet plans to use balloons to provide Internet in rural Uganda under its Loon project.

Google’s mother company Alphabet plans to use balloons to provide Internet in rural Uganda under its Loon project. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

RAYMOND TAMALE
By RAYMOND TAMALE
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Google’s mother company Alphabet plans to use balloons to provide Internet in rural Uganda under its Loon project — which uses large balloons carrying solar-powered equipment in the sky to send high–speed Internet signals to the ground.

The head of government relations at Loon Anna Prouse, said that the company is searching for a local telco partner to start operations.

“Our balloons will need to connect to physical cell towers of an operator in order to send a message to other balloons so that people in that area can be connected,” said Dr Prouse.

The balloons, which are designed to stay around 20km above sea level for 200 days, will be moving by surfing wind channels predicting speeds and directions. Each carries an antenna which relays Internet signals transmitted from the ground extending coverage over an area of 5,000sq km using 4G Internet.

Already, Loon has started gathering wind data to understand how to navigate over Ugandan skies before starting commercial agreements.

According to the National Information Technology Authority, by 2018 broadband connectivity in Uganda was still limited with just 45 per cent of the country having 3G coverage on mobile devices.

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Loon has been holding trials in a number of countries in Africa over the past few years, including Uganda, 

“During the trials, the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority UCAA would be notified of the flights on an ad hoc basis,” said UCAA director general Dr David Kakuba.

Loon has also received approval from the Kenyan government to begin tests after striking an agreement with Telkom Kenya to provide 4G to remote areas. Loon balloon has similar over flight arrangements with Botswana, Nigeria, South Africa, Mauritius, Seychelles, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Brazzaville and Mozambique.

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