Google Internet project closes in Uganda  

Thursday February 04 2021
tech01
By Paul Murungi

Uganda will be among the 10 African countries that will lose out as Google winds up its Internet Balloon Project. 

The closure follows an announcement in which Google said the project was “an unsustainable business model”.  

In 2019, Loon LLC, a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, signed a Letter of Agreement in Kampala with officials from Uganda Civil Aviation Authority, in which high altitude solar powered Internet balloons with floating masts over Uganda’s airspace, would be established at an altitude of 500,000 feet. 

The balloons would create an aerial wireless network to provide Internet and telecom network connectivity to rural and remote areas. 

Dr Anna Prouse, the Loon LLC head of government relations, had said then that Google would partner with telecoms to tap into their technology to allow connectivity. 

However, Alastair Westgarth, the team lead of the project, last week announced in a statement the project would be closed.  

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 “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: The communities in areas are too difficult or remote to reach, or the areas where delivering service with existing technologies is just too expensive for everyday people,” he said. 

 While Loon had found a number of willing partners along the way, he said, they had not found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business. 

“Developing radical new technology is inherently risky. I am sad to share that Loon will be winding down,” he said. 

 Loon had had similar arrangements in Botswana, Nigeria, South Africa, Mauritius, Seychelles, DR Congo, Congo Brazzaville, Mozambique and Kenya, but are expected to close as well.

The Loon project was expected to be a game changer in Uganda’s telecomm sector through enhancing connectivity in remote areas, and contributing to the development of the national backbone infrastructure project.  

The demand for Internet among Ugandans has grown exponentially in the recent past with Covid-19 being a serious catalyst. 

Internet status  

A UCC report published recently indicated telecom and Internet service providers registered an increase in demand for data in the third quarter of 2020 with more than 20 million subscriptions - nearly 50 per cent of the population being connected.    

The growth was mainly attributed to the shifting work culture driven by Covid-19, which led many businesses to adopt remote working methods.  

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