Project Loon is now set for its first commercial trial of a permanent ballooned-powered internet service — once approval is provided.
The entire program has been developed to provide internet connectivity to remote parts of the planet by flying solar-powered networking hardware in regions where traditional cell towers are difficult or expensive to build and maintain.
According to a report by Reuters, Loon is working with the third largest carrier in Kenya — Telkom Kenya — to run this commercial trial. Naturally, this test will be closely followed by those in the industry. The viability has been questioned numerous times since Project Loon was announced way back in 2011.
That said, Loon has successfully aided wireless carriers in Peru and Puerto Rico following natural disasters in both nations already. Loon was able to provide temporary wireless infrastructure in place of downed cell towers successfully in both cases. In Puerto Rico, the process to roll out Project Loon took around four weeks and saw a reported 100,000 people connecting to the wireless service.
It will be very interesting to see how Loon transitions from a more reactive service to a more permanent solution for wireless internet connectivity though. During the commercial trial, some of the most remote villages and towns in Kenya will have access to 4G services at supposed ‘market rates’. It is unclear how that translates to real-world costs for local Kenyans — and what data speeds they can expect.
Given the ability to bring service to disaster zones, Loon has proven that it can be viable in certain situations. But it remains unclear how it will service each region or if specific areas with larger populations will get priority and how that will affect service overall.
Loon will also have to overcome some other obstacles, such as the longevity of the balloons. At present, they are able to last around four to five months before they begin to deteriorate and break down. Winds are another obvious problem. High winds can push them out of range, meaning people just lose connection entirely.
The trial is expected to start in the coming weeks once Kenya’s aviation authority approves the project and will run for an undefined period.
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