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Alphabet's Project Loon gives connectivity in East Africa a lift

Alphabet's Project Loon gives connectivity in East Africa a lift

X, the R&D facility of Google's parent company Alphabet, has entered into an agreement with the East African Community (EAC) to help facilitate and leverage the launch of Project Loon – an internet connectivity initiative based on the use of pressured balloons that serve as 'cell towers' to provide connectivity.

The agreement was reached during a workshop to discuss the Project, organised by EAC (represented by its Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency) and Project Loon in Nairobi last week.

The balloons travel 20km above the Earth's surface and are designed to remain airborne for 190 days. According to Project Loon organisers, it is possible to achieve data transmission between the balloons that are spaced 100km apart and users with a 4G-enabled device can connect at speeds of up to 10Mbps.

The EAC and Project Loon organisers have agreed to collaborate and share technical information ahead of the launch. However, no date has been given for the actual launch and while partnerships with telecommunication companies are central to the Project, there are no details available as to any further alliances.

Liberat Mfumukeko, Secretary General of EAC said the organisation is hopeful the internet connectivity initiative will result in more employment opportunities for the Community's 180 million-strong population.

"We have to develop our private sector and industrialise. We also have to develop our service sector and that is important because our administrations governments cannot employ all these talented young people. For that (economic growth and employment) to happen, science technology and education are the foundation. As a community we have chosen to collaborate with people who really know what is upcoming, and these new innovations and technologies are a great opportunity for us as they have been for other nations in the world including Asia and even the Americas."

Mfumukeko said EAC "will undoubtedly anchor the project on a positive growth and expansion trajectory on the African continent."

The agreement includes communication between the two parties to ensure the safety of flights and landing when the balloons eventually come into operation.

According to Mfumukeko Project Loon reinforces the organisation's 5th Development Strategy (covering the period 2017 to 2022) which underscores the centrality of technology and industrialisation in the development of the region and its six partner states.

Alastair Westgarth, head of Project Loon at X,first revealed plans to launch in Africa at AfricaCom in November 2017.

Speaking at the Conference, Westgarth said: "We have been testing the wind currents and the winds in Africa since the beginning of this year and we really look forward to hopefully working with some of the operators here to figure out how to extend their networks to provide connectivity to their unconnected folk."

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