Google parent company Alphabet will help deliver wireless connectivity in Africa through its Loon Internet balloons.
These balloons drift in the earth’s stratosphere and are able to provide wide coverage in areas which don’t have sufficient telecommunications towers.
Each balloon can cover an area of 80km in diameter, while the balloon communicates with telecommunications towers to connect them to a mobile network.
A reader contacted MyBroadband after he noticed several of Loon’s balloons over Southern African airspace on FlightRadar24.
As of Thursday evening, the website showed two of the balloons over Namibia, one over Zimbabwe, and another near the coast of Mozambique.
Clicking on each Loon balloon icon on the radar shows details such as its registration number and country in which it was registered. This indicated the balloons were registered in the USA.
Additionally, it detailed the flight paths along which the balloons had travelled – showing the balloons headed in an eastern direction from over the Pacific Ocean.
The images below show the flight paths of each of the balloons.
Headed for Kenya
A Loon spokesperson told MyBroadband that Kenya is currently the only location in Africa where Loon has a partnership with a local mobile network operator to provide its service.
It confirmed that these balloons are headed for the country as part of a joint venture between Loon and Telkom Kenya.
According to FlightRadar24, several of these balloons have already arrived in the country.
It is envisaged that the Loon service will work to have targeted communities connected to emergency services, as well as ensure enhanced and alternative communication options between people.
Moreover, the Loon service will have the potential of connecting remote clinics to the country’s hospitals and other mapped medical facilities.
How Loon balloons travel
Loon told MyBroadband the balloons are launched from one of two sites, which are located in Puerto Rico and Nevada.
This would mean the balloons would have to travel at least 11,500km to get to Kenya.
After launch, the balloons ascend to an altitude of 20km – above the height of commercial air traffic. The balloons are then propelled by winds in the stratosphere to reach their target location.
Wind speeds and direction in the stratosphere vary depending on the altitude, so Loon’s balloons move up or down between the currents in order to travel to the desired location.
“Over many years, the Loon has developed a sophisticated, automated navigation system that predicts wind currents based on forecasts, and charts a balloon’s path through those wind currents so it can get to its desired destination,” the spokesperson said.
The balloons are then powered by on-board solar panels.