Alphabet’s Loon and Vodacom have signed a deal to use Loon’s balloon-powered Internet solution to expand the Vodacom network in Mozambique. In terms of the agreement, Loon will help Vodacom provide service to under-served parts of the country with a network of floating cellphone 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.
This partnership aims to 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.
Users will not need to do anything special to connect to the service; they will connect just as they would to a normal cell tower. In fact, it’s unlikely that a user will know that they are connected to the service provided by a high altitude balloon, except for the fact that they may have a signal in a location where it previously did not exist.
“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,” says Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub.
“This is even more pertinent in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, where more Mozambicans will now have access to healthcare information.”
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.
“We’re extremely pleased to be partnering with Vodacom to begin serving parts of Mozambique in the coming months,” says Loon’s CEO Alastair Westgarth.
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.
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