Kenya is set to use Project Loon balloons to provide internet connectivity to rural areas, communications minister Joe Mucheru confirmed in an interview with Reuters.

Mucheru told the news publication Project Loon – run by Alphabet’s X unit – would be deployed in partnership with local operators, verifying reports in the Kenyan press last month revealing Alphabet had opened talks with network providers.

Kenya has four mobile operators – Safaricom, Airtel Kenya, Faiba and Telkom Kenya. It is not clear which companies will partner with Alphabet on its deployment.

Home broadband penetration is low in Kenya and mobile connectivity is the primary source of internet access for the majority of the country using online services. Communications Authority of Kenya statistics from September 2017 showed home broadband penetration at 39 per cent across the country while mobile penetration stood at 90 per cent.

Flying high
Following a number of tests around the world, Project Loon came to prominence in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which battered the island of Puerto Rico in 2017.

In response to the disaster, Alphabet’s high altitude balloons were used to provide internet connectivity across the island after much of its existing communications infrastructure was knocked out. Recent statistics estimate it served 250,000 people.

News Alphabet’s balloons are set to take flight above Kenya comes a week after rival Facebook scrapped its own airborne internet connectivity programme Aquila. Facebook had hoped to provide internet access to underserved areas using high altitude drones.