By Gabriel Onyango
A large portion of Kenya still resides in rural areas, yet internet access, reception and prices are still ridiculously bad. However, all this is set to change if the first of its kind Google Loop project-that has been piloted in Kenya-succeeds.
The Google Loon project, with an ambitious goal of providing internet access to all unconnected parts of the world, consists of a network of balloons, floating in the earth’s stratosphere. Working like relay race runners passing signals from collaborating telecom companies, transmitting them balloon to balloon and into the phones of users in remote places (even where telecom companies don’t have coverage).
The program is still being piloted and recent tests have achieved internet speeds of up to 10 Mbps. In Kenya, about 10 balloons were released in Nyeri, Marsabit, Nakuru and Nanyuki towns for the test. One of which caused quite a fracas when wind conditions forced it to land in a farm in Igembe Central Meru County, where members of the X team from Google picked it up but that was after people had flocked to see it.
The ballons are tracked by GPS and have a parachute system that allows for safe decent, they are also fitted with solar panels and a battery for storing charge-for night use.
The balloons have an internet coverage of 20 kilometers transmitting internet via 3g and 4g technology, this has a huge potential on the economy of rural Kenya, it is estimated that a 10 percent increase in internet penetration leads to a corresponding 1 percent increase in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a country.
Numbers cannot fully describe the impact of the loon project, for instance in cases of emergency e.g. floods, when local infrastructure is destroyed the balloons can still facilitate internet connectivity. The balloon technology will allow connectivity of high-speed internet to remote areas without having to lay fiber optic cables or build new infrastructure, which can be costly.
Close to half of the worlds seven billion population doesn’t have access to the internet, even those that access it are not guaranteed of quality, not to mention, slow internet is, in some circles ranked among the most annoying things in the world. For Kenya, the loon project is a much welcomed innovation.