Alphabet’s Loon balloons will get their first commercial trial in Kenya

Google spin-out and now fellow member of the Alphabet family of companies Loon will get a big test in the coming months, as it begins its first commercial trial in Kenya in partnership with Telkom Kenya.

Loon’s entire mission is to provide internet connectivity to areas that are typically underserved, using high-altitude balloons with solar-powered cellular network gear on board, replacing the need for permanent tower infrastructure in environments where that kind of option either isn’t practical or affordable.

With this new commercial trial (set to take place later this year after the equipment makes its way to the target site in the next few weeks), Telkom Kenya will be providing access to customers spread out across a number of villages located in a mountainous region of the country at rates on par with what it offers its existing customers through its more traditional network infrastructure.

According to Reuters, Loon still has work to do in terms of proving out that its novel model for delivering connectivity makes business sense for carrier partners, who seem to be skeptical of its ability to provide reliable service at a cost that still makes sense in terms of profitability.

For its part, Loon seems eager to prove out its commercial viability, after having already demonstrated that its balloon networks have the technical chops to provide connectivity on the ground via engagements in Peru and Puerto Rico, where its tech was used for free by local carriers to bolster networks brought down by natural disasters.

Alphabet’s balloon-based internet will eventually compete with satellite networks aiming to provide the same kind of coverage to low-density areas not covered by tower-based infrastructure, including efforts like SpaceX’s Starlink network.