Alphabet’s Internet Loon Project is Shutting Down, Blow to Telkom Kenya

Alphabet shutting down Loon
  • Loon launched a pilot project in Kenya in 2020+

  • In 2019, Loon raised $125 million in a funding round led by SoftBank Group Corp.

  • Loon to cease operations in Kenya on 1st March

Google parent Alphabet Inc is shutting down its nine-year-old internet balloon business, Loon, claiming it was not commercially viable.

“While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business,” Loon Chief Executive Alastair Westgarth said in a blog post.

“We talk a lot about connecting the next billion users, but the reality is Loon has been chasing the hardest problem of all in connectivity — the last billion users,” Alastair said. 

“The communities in areas too difficult or remote to reach, or the areas where delivering service with existing technologies is just too expensive for everyday people. While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business. Developing radical new technology is inherently risky, but that doesn’t make breaking this news any easier.”

The announcement is a blow to Telkom Kenya Ltd (TKL) who after extensive talks dating back to 2018 was able to commence using the balloons in 2020 enabling universal 4G data coverage in the country.

“Loon would not have been possible without a community of innovators and risk-takers who were willing to take a chance on us and build something the world has never seen before. While we’re sad to share that Loon’s journey is coming to an end, we are grateful to the Telkom team for their vision and partnership,” Loon’s CEO, Alastair Westgarth said.

Loon will continue to provide service with Telkom in Kenya until March 1, this year.

“Telkom believes in taking bold decisions. 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. Their vision – to connect unconnected and under-connected communities by inventing and integrating audacious technologies – sat well with our mission, to provide the best value for a simpler life, efficient business, and stronger communities,” Telkom Kenya’s CEO, Mr. Mugo Kibiti said.

Astro Teller, CEO of X, chairman of Loon’s board said they were pledging a $10 million fund to support businesses focused on connectivity, education, entrepreneurship and internet in Kenya.

“Some of Loon’s technology — like the high bandwidth (20Gbps+) optical communication links that were first used to beam a connection between balloons bopping in the stratosphere — already lives on in Project Taara. This team is currently working with partners in Sub-Saharan Africa to bring affordable, high-speed internet to unconnected and under-connected communities starting in Kenya.”