Alphabet To Deploy Google Project Loon In Mozambique

A prototype Loon internet access balloon. Credit: Alphabet

Loon signs deal with South African operator Vodacom to deliver balloon-powered high speed 4G and internet connectivity to rural provinces in Mozambique

Alphabet’s Loon division has signed a deal with South African mobile operator Vodacom to deliver high speed internet into two rural provinces in Mozambique from the upper atmosphere.

Vodacom is owned by the UK’s Vodafone, and the deal essentially expands Vodacom’s network in Mozambique by providing connectivity to Cabo Delgado and Niassa provinces.

These are two regions that have proven hard to cover in the past due to the vast and logistically challenging geographical areas, coupled with low population density. This makes it an ideal area for Loon, which is able to build a network of floating cell phone towers that operate 20 kilometres (12 miles) above Earth, and are powered by an on-board solar panel.

An engineer is shown preparing a Loon baloon prototype for launch. Credit: Alphabet

Connectivity deal

According to the two firms, the Loon solution will provide a 4G service that supports data, voice, SMS and USSD, which will also enable mobile financial services.

The service will be available to any Vodacom subscriber with a standard 4G-VoLTE enabled handset and SIM card. There is no special phones and the user in these areas will only notice the difference when they get signal from the Loon balloons in areas where there was previously no signal.

“Vodacom’s partnership with Loon is a perfect example of how technological innovation can connect the most rural communities in Africa,” explained Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub. “We are pleased to be part of this initiative in Mozambique, which is helping to bridge the digital divide.”

“This is even more pertinent in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, where more Mozambicans will now have access to healthcare information through our Loon partnership,” Joosub added. “We look forward to forging similar partnerships and projects across the continent, as we ensure that no one is left behind when it comes to accessing the global digital economy.”

It seems that both Loon and Vodacom have been working collaboratively with Mozambican communications and aviation regulators to obtain the necessary approvals to enable service in Mozambique.

“We’re extremely pleased to be partnering with Vodacom, one of Africa’s largest mobile network operators, to begin serving parts of Mozambique in the coming months,” said Loon’s CEO Alastair Westgarth. “Vodacom has a big footprint in Southern Africa, and provides service to tens of millions of people across multiple countries every single day. We view this as the first step to a larger partnership that will allow us to serve more of those users throughout Africa.”

In the coming months, Loon and Vodacom will work together to continue installing terrestrial infrastructure, which will serve as the physical connection point for Loon’s balloons to Vodacom’s internet and core network.

Loon will also begin flying balloons above Mozambique to learn the stratospheric wind patterns on which the balloons must navigate to remain above the service area. Both firms expect to begin providing service to users in the coming months.

Moonshot project

Project Loon has been developed by Google ever since 2011, and in July 2018 it signed its first ever commercial agreement with Telkom Kenya.

That deal saw Project Loon deliver Internet connectivity to parts of central Kenya, from 2019.

Then in December 2019, Loon signed an airspace access agreement with Uganda.

The Loon tech was also used by American telecom operators to provide connectivity to more than 250,000 people in Puerto Rico after a hurricane in 2017 for example.

And Project Loon has also been used to restore Internet in Peru after the earthquake there in 2017 and it has also been trialled in countries such as Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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