Loon, the balloon-oriented business that started as a crazy experiment within Google, announced a deal with Vodacom, one of the biggest mobile network operators in Africa.
The addition of Mozambique marks Loon’s second market in Africa, the other being Kenya through a deal with Telkom Kenya. According to Loon, having two markets in such close proximity allows it to share balloons and capture operational efficiencies.
“It’s pretty cool that in the lifespan of one vehicle, it could serve in multiple countries, multiple times,” said Loon CEO Alistair Westgarth in a blog post.
Loon’s commercial contract with Vodacom calls for serving the Cabo Delgado and Niassa provinces of Mozambique, two regions that have proven hard to cover in the past due to their challenging geographies.
Loon gets connectivity from mobile service providers in the regions where it offers service, but its unique infrastructure is up in the stratosphere, so it doesn’t have the same challenges as a terrestrial-based system. From the air, its infrastructure can provide about 20 to 30 times the coverage of a normal cell tower.
According to Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub, the partnership with Loon is even more pertinent in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. More Mozambicans, even in the most rural communities, will get access to healthcare information.
Westgarth said in the coming months, they will continue to install ground infrastructure and begin flying test flights so Loon’s autonomous navigation system can begin learning the wind patterns in the stratosphere above Mozambique.
Last week, Loon announced a different kind of deal with AT&T. In that pact, it’s using AT&T’s vast network of roaming partners to react faster in disaster situations. That means Loon will be able to leverage AT&T’s international roaming partners rather than approaching each of them individually to complete time-intensive network integration, which is crucial when they want to get connectivity to an area when people need it the most.
Loon started out as a project within Google and graduated to become an independent business within Alphabet in 2018.