TECHNOLOGY

Telkom targets 4.8 million mobile users with 4G balloon network

Gets boost with loon network

In Summary
  • The 4G network project now puts Telkom in a poles position to compete with Safaricom both in terms of voice and data.
  • Loon is a network of stratospheric balloons designed to bring internet connectivity to rural and remote communities worldwide.
New Telkom CEO Mugo Kibati. /FILE
New Telkom CEO Mugo Kibati. /FILE

Telkom Kenya now has the potential to expand its internet subscription by 4.8 million users after it launched loon, 4G enabling balloons in partnership with American tech giant, Alphabet.

Loon is a network of stratospheric balloons designed to bring internet connectivity to rural and remote communities worldwide.

The high-altitude balloons in the stratosphere (altitude: 18km to 25km) create an aerial wireless network with up to 4G-LTE speeds.

 

The solar and wind powered balloons have been entering Kenya’s airspace from different parts of the world since March, a month after the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) approved entry after two years of contention.

Yesterday, at least 10 of 35 loon balloons went live, a move that will see internet users in 14 counties access the faster 4G network, covering 50,000 square kilometres, 10 per cent of the country.

This was the first commercial launch of loon balloon technology in the world, putting Kenya on the global map in terms of technological advancement.

The balloons had previously been used only in emergency situations, such as in Puerto Rico in 2017 after Hurricane Maria wiped out cell towers.

President Uhuru Kenyatta who spoke at the launch held in Radat, Baringo County via a video teleconference asked locals to use the enhanced internet network speed to better their social economic activities.

"I want you to take full advantage of the enhanced internet speed to sell your honey and other produce to the world,’’ Uhuru told traders at the shopping centre.

Information Technology cabinet secretary Joe Mucheru said the balloons are intended to offer countries a cheaper option than laying cables or building cell towers.

 

"We are leaders when it comes to technological innovation not only in Africa, but globally. The world is now witnessing Kenya launch first ever commercial network balloons,’’ Mucheru said.

In March, Uhuru announced the approval of universal 4G purposed to lay foundations for data access countrywide as part of the government’s measures to mitigate the disruptions to life by the Covid-19.

Both companies involved and the government was however tight-lipped on the value of commercial arrangement for the deployment of those balloons.

The 4G network project now puts Telkom in a position to compete with Safaricom both in terms of voice and data.

According to the latest data from the Communication Authority of Kenya, Safaricom’s share in mobile subscriptions stood at 64.8 per cent recording a 0.3 percentage points decline.

On other hand, Airtel gained by 0.7 percentage points to post 26.6 percent market share, pushing its subscribers to 14.7 million as at March 30.

Telkom Kenya lost 0.4 percentage points to post a market share of 5.8 percent with 3,190,661 subscribers while Equitel's market share remained unchanged at 3.1 percent with 1,726,372 subscribers.

In terms of internet connectivity, Safaricom's home fibre popularity rose among Kenyans accounting for 33.1 per cent of the market share with 165,810 subscribers. Wananchi Group Kenya however, is still leading with 35 per cent market share with 175,433 internet subscribers.

Telkom CEO Mugo Kibati said the firm hopes to reap dividends from the infrastructure investment, which he termed as expensive but timely and effective.