It turns out that Loon’s years of collaboration with Telefonica are paying off, with Loon signing a commercial deal to start serving Telefonica users in remote regions of the Amazon rainforest in Peru next year.
The deal remains contingent on regulatory approval, but if allowed, Loon, a unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet, will use its high-altitude balloons to expand mobile internet access to parts of the Peruvian Amazonia. Specifically, the deal is with Todos Perú (IpT), which is an open access wholesale rural mobile infrastructure operator owned by Telefónica, Facebook, IDB Invest and CAF.
Similar to other endeavors involving the social media and search giants, IpT aims to bring mobile internet to remote populations where conventional telecom infrastructure deployment is not yet economically feasible.
“Loon would not be where it is today without Peru. Over years of testing in the country we’ve achieved many milestones that have proven our technology, connected people in need, and accelerated the growth of our business,” said Alastair Westgarth, CEO of Loon, in a statement. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to continue working in Peru on a sustained basis, and we look forward to partnering with IpT and Telefónica del Perú as we continue to work toward our mission of connecting people everywhere.”
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Loon and IpT initially will provide service in certain locations that make up around 15% of the Loreto’s area and where nearly 200,000 people live. About a quarter of them lack 3G or better service, and many others lack any reliable mobile service at all outside of populated areas, according to Loon. It’s worth noting that the deployment of Loon in Peru will make it the first country in Latin America to use Loon's connectivity solution on a sustained, nonemergency basis.
The company has a history of turning up in regions after emergencies. The collaboration between Loon and Telefónica in Peru dates back to 2014, when early tests of Loon’s technology began. In 2017, when the El Niño floods destroyed parts of Northern Peru, Loon worked with Telefónica to provide internet connections to people in need in an area over 40,000 Km² in size. Earlier this year, when a magnitude 8.0 earthquake hit Peru, the two companies collaborated to provide emergency connectivity.
Loon noted that because this is a first-of-its-kind deployment for sustained service via stratospheric balloons in Peru, Loon, IpT and Telefónica will work on securing regulatory approval from Peru’s Ministry of Transport and Communications before launching service.
Loon has come a long way since the days when it was considered a crazy science experiment. Loon’s balloons act like floating cell towers, transmitting a provider’s service directly to a subscriber’s LTE device below. Loon’s balloons actually receive a signal from the ground, which is then shared across multiple balloons that spread it to users below using standard LTE signals.
When a balloon is ready to be taken out of service, the lift gas keeping it aloft is released and the parachute automatically deploys to control the landing, according to Loon. Descending balloons are coordinated with local air traffic control, and balloons are landed in sparsely populated areas. Recovery teams are then sent out to collect the balloon and equipment for recycling.
Peru is the second country, after Kenya, where Loon has signed a contract to expand the service of a mobile network operator using stratospheric balloons. In Kenya, Loon is awaiting final written regulatory approval to begin flying and conducting the final stages of network integration with its partner, Telkom Kenya.