The Kenyan government approved Alphabet subsidiary Loon to launch connectivity balloons in the country, with the US company stating it aimed to deploy commercial service together with partner Telkom Kenya in a matter of weeks.

In a statement, Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth said the greenlight for the project was a “critical step in our efforts to provide service in Kenya on a sustained basis”. Approval appears to have been accelerated by the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, with the government keen to use the system to tackle the virus.

Loon plans to dispatch additional equipment from its US facilities to supplement gear used for trials in Kenya. Westgarth noted it could take “a number of weeks” to float the balloons into position.

“Once there, we will conduct the final stages of network integration testing with Telkom Kenya,” before lighting the commercial service.

Telkom Kenya explained when the system is up and running, the system of high-altitude balloons will deliver 4G internet connectivity to “unserved and under-served communities in Kenya”. The partners will then move to swiftly expand coverage to other areas, to aid government efforts to “address and manage the spread” of Covid-19, with access to emergency services a priority, alongside connecting people.

“Moreover, the Loon service will have the potential of connecting remote clinics to the country’s national referral hospitals and other mapped medical facilities.”

Telkom Kenya became Loon’s first commercial agreement when the pair agreed their partnership in mid-2018. While they originally aimed to get the service up and running during 2019, Financial Times reported they hit trouble gaining government approval.