Loon’s efforts in laying the groundwork for its technology are paying off. The company this week said it was able to provide internet service in Peru by Tuesday afternoon after a magnitude 8.0 earthquake hit the region on Sunday morning.
The reason it reacted in such a lickety-split manner has to do with the fact Loon was already testing its balloons over Peru—not right over the impacted region, but close enough that it could respond far faster than in previous expeditions.
Over the past few months, Loon has been in negotiations with Telefónica on a commercial contract that would use Loon’s balloons to extend mobile internet access to unserved and underserved areas of Peru, according to a blog post by Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth.
“In the past month, these efforts had accelerated to the point where we had begun installing infrastructure and intermittently testing with balloons serving LTE over the region. The progress was very encouraging,” he wrote.
When the earthquake struck on Sunday, engineers were able to quickly re-direct a group of balloons to the impacted area. Early Tuesday morning, the first balloons began serving LTE to users below—and more are on the way.
Those who have been following Loon may remember that in early 2017, Loon worked with Telefónica to respond when flooding impacted northern regions of Peru. Later in 2017, Loon provided service with AT&T and T-Mobile after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. Back then, it took about four weeks for the balloons to begin providing service, whereas in this recent situation, it was able to start providing service in about 48 hours because it already laid the building blocks for the network.
Before providing service, Loon needs to install ground infrastructure, integrate with a mobile network operator’s network, get the appropriate regulatory approvals, launch balloons and navigate them to a desired location. “However, with Loon already active in a country, as is the case in Peru, our ability to respond to a natural disaster can be measured in hours or days rather than weeks,” Westgarth wrote.
It’s come a long way since it’s early days. Last summer, what was known as “Project Loon”—for its “loony” beginnings as part of Google—advanced to become an entity unto its own, graduating from X to become a new independent business within Alphabet. This year, Loon is working to launch commercial service, including in Africa, to bring mobile internet access to unserved and underserved communities.