Faced with coronavirus, Kenya accelerates on the Internet in Google balloons

Massive use of telework, saturation of platforms, etc. The coronavirus epidemic reinforces the dependence of the affected countries on their networks. If European telecom operators have been able to ensure the continuity of their service despite a significant increase in connections, other less well-endowed countries fear that they will not be able to bear the burden.

This is particularly the case in Kenya, which has urgently authorized the company Loon, a subsidiary of Alphabet, to deploy a network of flying relay antennas on its territory. They had been in discussion since July 2018 and the project was due to be completed soon, but the arrival of the new coronavirus precipitated things. The Kenyan air authorities have therefore signed an express agreement with Loon to allow the company’s equipment to fly over the national territory.

Carried by the wind, stratospheric balloons equipped with 4G and suspended at an altitude of 20 kilometers will therefore converge in the coming weeks towards East Africa. Others will be launched from the United States to join them. Each of them will cover an area of ​​80 kilometers in diameter and will be able to connect thousands of people to the internet.

Once there, they will form a network capable of reaching isolated regions, but also of supporting existing infrastructure if they fail. According to the Kenyan telecommunications authority, the country has almost as many Internet subscriptions as inhabitants. But the latter are mostly connected via mobile plans, with no backup solution.

Guarantee an internet connection

Kenya has so far reported only about 20 cases of Covid-19 patients. But it has already taken preventive measures like closing the markets and advises its population to practice barrier gestures. If stricter measures are to be put in place, the government wants to be able to guarantee an internet connection to its inhabitants and its institutions. “Agreement will allow government to combat spread of coronavirus, which has now entered our borders“Said Telkom Kenya CEO Mugo Kibati.

Loon has already deployed its balloons in territories in crisis, especially in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017 and in Peru following an earthquake in 2019. But the company also works with the telecoms of New Zealand and Brazil , who see in this technology the opportunity to extend their network coverage in hard-to-reach areas.

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