December 10, 2019 / 3:41 PM / a month ago

Alphabet's Loon agrees airspace deal with Uganda for internet balloon service

A Google Project Loon internet balloon is seen at the Google I/O 2016 developers conference in Mountain View, California May 19, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Loon, a unit of Google’s owner Alphabet Inc, which uses high-altitude balloons to provide mobile internet to remote areas, has signed a key access airspace agreement with Uganda.

The deal grants Loon overflight rights crucial to its plans to provide floating balloon-enabled internet services in neighbouring Kenya, the company said on Tuesday.

The permissions are key to the firm’s ambition of providing internet access to rural and remote populations that receive poor connectivity from traditional telecoms in Kenya, said Scott Coriell, the company’s Head of Global Communications.

Loon announced in July a plan to deploy its balloon system to beam high-speed Internet access in Kenya.

The Ugandan overflight rights were important because “the balloons may get above the Ugandan stratosphere as they provide service across Kenya,” Coriell told Reuters in an emailed statement.

Made from sheets of polyethylene, each tennis court-sized balloon is designed to float 20 kilometres (12.4 miles) above sea level, twice as high as the altitude of a commercial aircraft, according to Loon. They will be launched from the U.S. and monitored from Mountain View, California.

The Loon balloons, which are powered by an on-board solar panel, provide fourth generation (4G) coverage to under-served areas.

Coriell said Loon was also still finalising details of flight operations for its planned service in Kenya. “We hope to begin flying balloons in Kenya very soon,” he said.

The agreement with the Ugandan government was signed late on Monday.

Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; editing by Mike Harrison

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