In 2013, Google X (now known as Alphabet) announced Project Loon, an ambitious project to provide internet access to rural and underserved areas using a network of balloons. The balloons would float in the stratosphere, about 18 to 20 kilometers above the Earth, and would use solar power to provide internet access to ground stations.
Project Loon was initially met with excitement and optimism. The project had the potential to provide internet access to millions of people who currently do not have it, and it could help to bridge the digital divide. However, Project Loon faced a number of challenges.
One of the biggest challenges was the cost. The cost of developing and deploying a network of balloons was high, and Google struggled to find a way to make Project Loon financially viable in Kenya.
In 2021, Google announced that it would be suspending Project Loon in Kenya. The company cited a number of factors for the decision:
- Regulatory challenges: Google faced a number of regulatory challenges in Kenya, the Kenyan Government was not open to the idea with Google citing “concerns were raided about the safety of the balloons and the impact they would have on the country’s telecommunications infrastructure.”
- Need to focus on other projects: Google is a large company with a number of other projects in development. The company decided to focus its resources on these other projects, which it believed had a higher chance of success.
- Limited demand: The demand for internet access in Kenya is not as high as in other countries. This is due to a number of factors, including the cost of internet access and the lack of awareness of the benefits of internet access.
Despite the suspension of Project Loon in Kenya, the project was a significant achievement. It demonstrated the potential of using balloons to provide internet access to remote areas. It is possible that Project Loon or a similar project could be revived in the future.
Starlink: A Better Alternative to Project Loon
Starlink is a satellite constellation being developed by SpaceX. The constellation consists of thousands of satellites that will be placed in low Earth orbit. The satellites will use laser communication to provide high-speed internet access to anywhere on Earth, including rural and underserved areas.
Starlink is still in development, but it has the potential to be a viable alternative to Project Loon. Starlink is expected to be more reliable than Project Loon, and it is also expected to provide internet access to areas that are too remote for Project Loon balloons to reach.
Starlink is set to launch in Kenya in 2023, pending Government approval.