Alphabet’s Loon, Vodacom in connectivity alliance for Mozambique
Alphabet’s Loon and Vodacom have signed a deal to use Loon’s balloon-powered internet solution to expand the Vodacom network in Mozambique.
According to a statement released by the companies, in terms of the agreement, 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. 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,” reads an excerpt from the statement.
Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub said: “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.”
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.
Loon’s CEO Alastair Westgarth added: “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. 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."
Vodacom Mozambique Chief Technology Officer Pedro Rabacal said: “Vodacom Mozambique is excited and proud to be able to bring the latest technological innovation to some of the most remote areas of the country. In times such as these, it is more important than ever that we find ways to ensure that we expand our coverage and services and that our customers have access to critical hygiene and lifesaving information. This partnership with Loon offers a key solution that will significantly accelerate Vodacom’s 4G coverage to areas of Mozambique that have been challenging to service. Our aim is to expand and push to the edge of coverage so as to provide the same quality voice, data, SMS and M-Pesa services to all Mozambicans”.
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.
The companies add that 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.
More Loon balloons
In April 2020 Telkom Kenya and Project Loon confirmed that additional balloons are scheduled to arrive in the East African country “within weeks”.
The underserved areas cut across the breadth of the country and include Machakos, Nyeri, Nakuru, Kitui, Nanyuki, Narok and into Kisii. Nairobi’s environs will also be targeted.
Telkom Kenya said the balloons will be launched in Puerto Rico and will sail over to Kenya’s base station, where they will be launched.
The company released a statement which reads: “Upon arrival, this larger fleet of balloons will continue network integration testing with its local partner, Telkom Kenya, in preparation to begin serving users as quickly as possible. The recently launched balloons are expected to gradually begin arriving above Kenya, in the coming few weeks.”