Internet access in rural areas is set to be increased as Uganda prepares to welcome the introduction of Alphabet’s Project Loon into the country.
The project uses high-altitude balloons placed in the stratosphere at an altitude of about 50,000 feet to create an aerial wireless network with up to 4G-LTE speeds.
Loon balloons travel in space, acting as floating cell towers to drive connectivity to people in unserved and underserved areas around the world.
The balloons navigate wind currents 20 kilometers above the earth and can be arranged in small clusters to provide periods of prolonged connectivity down below.
In East Africa, flights commenced in Kenya and Project Loon is exploring opportunities in Uganda.
A cross-section of stakeholders from the National Information Technology Authority, Civil Aviation Authority, Ministry of Defence & Veterinary Affairs, Ministry of Security and the EAC Civil Aviation and Security Oversight Agency met with Project Loon at Serena Hotel, Kigo, to discuss how internet access in hard to reach areas of Uganda can be enhanced.
Ms Vivian Ddambya, who represented the Minister of Information Communications Technology, underscored the centrality of technological development in supporting the realization of rapid economic and social development for Uganda, the EAC and generally for the African Continent.
She noted that the Government of Uganda has placed a “high premium on internet access as an enabler for large areas of the country to access government and other services that are provided by the private sector.”
Ms Ddambya highlighted some of the sectors whose expansion and reach will be enhanced by the availability and access to internet including financial, health, education, disaster management and recovery among other social economic human endeavors.
Officials said a balloon will be able to provide service to cover an area of about 5,000 square kilometers.
Loon’s Head of Aviations, Robert Eagles, said the service provided by balloons would facilitate government e-programmes such as e-commerce and e-education as the internet is reliable.
Regarding the risks, Eagles said they work with traffic controllers to avoid possible interference with traffic routes of commercial airline.
He said the planes travel at around 30,000 feet above sea level yet the balloons will be situated at 60,000 feet – far from the commercial traffic routes.
Should a balloon develop challenges, an automated function is activated to self-terminate.
Loon officials told ChimpReports they would ensure compliance with Uganda’s laws especially on permanently restricted areas.
The balloons which are dispatched from Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, are blown by winds to Africa, taking more than five weeks to reach Uganda.
On internet reliability, Loon staff said they fly a group of balloons which implies failure of one balloon doesn’t necessarily affect the internet service.
On the available infrastructure and business environment in Uganda to support Loon operations, Ddambya shared that the National Backbone Infrastructure would be available to be utilized and emphasized that the Government of Uganda supports private sector and joint venture investments and had substantially developed policy, institutional and infrastructure capacities as would be required to support Loon operations.
U.S. Ambassador to Uganda, Deborah Malac welcomed the entry of Project Loon into the Ugandan market.
“Bringing internet to rural areas in Uganda remains a big challenge,” said Malac, adding, “The presence of Project Loon here today is an important step towards connecting remote populations.”