Alphabet subsidiary Loon and operator partner Telkom Kenya ended a two year wait to launch commercial 4G services on the balloon-based connectivity set-up, with the deployment dogged by regulatory delays.

In a blog post, Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth said the launch was the first in a non-emergency scenario on a large-scale basis, and the “first of what will be many commercial deployments around the world”.

In a statement, Telkom Kenya CEO Mugo Kibati hailed the launch as “an exciting milestone for internet service provision in Africa and the world”.

Loon initially had eight balloons in Kenyan airspace with an additional five dispatched in April. It ultimately aims to have a fleet of 35 balloons, covering 50,000 square kilometres of Kenya.

Telkom Kenya said internet service is limited to between 6am and 9pm, because the balloons are solar powered.

An early network pilot in June delivered uplink speed of 4.74Mb/s, downlink speed of 18.9Mb/s, and latency of 19 milliseconds in tests spanning a range of popular online applications involving around 35,000 Telkom Kenya customers.

The project was announced in 2018 with the original aim to launch in 2019, but was delayed by slow government approvals.

Loon since signed a second commercial deal with Vodacom Group covering Mozambique.