Alphabet’s Loon and Vodacom have signed a deal to use Loon’s balloon-powered internet solution to expand the Vodacom network in Mozambique.
Under the partnership Loon will help Vodacom provide service to un-served and under-served parts of the country with a network of floating cell phone towers that operate 20 kilometres above Earth.
Using the Loon solution, Vodacom will expand mobile network access to Cabo Delgado and Niassa provinces, two regions that have proven hard to cover in the past due to the vast and logistically challenging geographical areas, together with low population density.
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.
Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub says “Vodacom’s partnership with Loon is a perfect example of how technological innovation can connect the most rural communities in Africa. 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. 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.”
Loon and Vodacom have been working collaboratively with Mozambican communications and aviation regulators, including Autoridade Reguladora das Comunicações de Moçambique (ARECOM) and the Institute for Civil Aviation of Mozambique (IACM), to obtain the necessary approvals to enable service in Mozambique.
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. Network integration testing is ongoing in order to ensure that this innovative solution works as intended. Loon and Vodacom expect to begin providing service to users in the coming months.
Loon is a subsidiary of Alphabet, the parent company of Google. The company utilizes a network of high-altitude balloons to deliver connectivity to people in areas where it has previously been difficult to provide services. Loon balloons operate 20 km above Earth in stratosphere – well above commercial air traffic, weather events, and wildlife. The balloons act as floating base stations that extend the reach of a mobile network operator’s service.
Loon recently launched balloons in Kenya a week after the company received cabinet approval to launch its service in Kenya. The Google owned company has partnered with Telkom Kenya to launch balloon-powered Internet service in Kenya.