The Cabinet Secretary for ICT Joe Mucheru has tasked the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) to develop ways that will see Kenyans buy and use smart devices at affordable (lower) prices.
The announcement was made at Baringo where the CS had gone to test 4G connectivity deployed by high-flying balloons. The balloons are managed by Telkom Kenya and Loon in a collaboration dubbed Project Loon that launched in Kenya, albeit in a pilot phase, sometime in 2018.
Loon, which has since gone official in the state, purposes to ensure that locals in underserved areas have access to mobile internet. The underserved regions exist because operators and internet companies have no incentive to invest millions, perhaps billions of shillings to deploy masts due to geographical limitations.
The balloons do not need any specialized infrastructure on the ground.
According to Telkom:
As Loon gains more experience flying in Kenya and dispatches more balloons to the service region, it is expected that service consistency will increase. In addition, with the Loon technology being a solar-powered solution, customers will get to experience mobile Internet service availability from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm.
Also, and according to KBC, Mucheru mentioned that his ministry will use universal services to make sure that internet connectivity is available for the vast majority of Kenyans. The issue, however, is that Kenyans who will have access to Loon are likely not going to afford smartphones.
CA’s CEO Mercy Wanjau says, “As Communication Authority we will ensure that we expand the network coverage in the country as this will also enhance inclusivity in our country.”
Telkom has been testing Loon for a little over two years. More than 35000 Kenyans in the targeted areas have been using the service without knowing they are connected to the balloons. Whether Telkom will roll out the balloons to other parts of the country is a development we will wait to see, but at this start, everything looks promising.
However, and as the CS puts it, Kenyans in remote areas will be served just right, but do they have the capacity to afford devices that will make them enjoy connectivity? The answer is a big no, but we will see how it plays out in the future.