Kenya: Alphabet’s Loon deflates

19 February 2021

Alphabet’s Loon, the stratospheric balloon internet access service in Kenya is to return to earth.

The project is shutting down across the globe after nine years of exploration and final pilot.

“So we’ve made the difficult decision to close down Loon. In the coming months, we’ll begin winding down operations and it will no longer be an Other Bet (Google’s innovative projects) within Alphabet,” said Astro Teller, lead at the Google X lab where the project was born in 2011. “Sadly, despite the team’s ground-breaking technical achievements over the last nine years - doing many things previously thought impossible, like precisely navigating balloons in the stratosphere, creating a mesh network in the sky, or developing balloons that can withstand the harsh conditions of the stratosphere for more than a year - the road to commercial viability has proven much longer and riskier than hoped.”

Alastair Westgarth, chairman and chief executive officer of Loon, added: “While we have found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to cut costs enough to create a long-term sustainable business. Developing radical new technology is inherently risky.

The rationale was to bring internet access to the next billion in such regions with internet balloons in the stratosphere that would emit internet signals over a wide area.

In Kenya, the company was given the green light to operate in Kenyan airspace at the onset of the Covid-19 induced restrictions. Telkom Kenya was selected to partner with Loon locally.

“It was very exciting, therefore, to partner with like-minded pioneers in the adoption and usage of innovative technologies such as Loon, with the aim of filling in the internet access gaps in areas that were difficult to service,” said Mugo Kibati, CEO at Telkom Kenya.

Balloons were launched over server countries including New Zealand, Peru and Puerto Rico.