Loon welcomes McCaw, Walden, Small to new advisory board

After years of trying to prove that Loon would not work, the team says it's pleased to conclude that indeed it could work. The next quest: Getting the technology to people who actually need it. (Loon)

Loon is getting some high-octane leaders to help guide it through its next phase, including the executive recognized for stitching together the nation’s first cellular network.

Craig McCaw, who founded McCaw Cellular in the 1980s and sold it to AT&T in 1994, is one of the founding members of a new advisory board for Loon. Marni Walden, a longtime Verizon executive with decades of wireless industry experience, and Ian Small, formerly chief data officer at Telefonica S.A. and currently CEO of Evernote, are also founding members of the advisory board.

Loon’s business model is to partner with mobile network operators (MNOs) around the world to expand internet coverage to those who don’t have it, so tapping the know-how of these experts makes a lot of sense.

“Mobile network operators have decades of experience delivering connectivity to billions of users around the world,” wrote Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth in a post on Medium. “With Loon’s technology, we see a valuable opportunity to help MNOs reach more people in areas that have been difficult or impossible to serve. Loon is as an infrastructure solution that will allow MNOs to expand their networks and attract new customers.”

Loon is transitioning itself to a commercial business, but it has had some experience already working with MNOs. It started out as Project Loon within Google, then moved to the Alphabet company known as X. Last summer, it was spun out to act as its own independent company within Alphabet—the same time the drone delivery system Wing was spun out.

McCaw was also at the head of the restructuring of Nextel Communications and co-founded Nextel Partners, which became successful in their own rights. Nextel was later acquired by Sprint in 2005—which didn’t go well—but by then McCaw had already launched Clearwire Corporation in 2003, and that company would eventually get combined with Sprint and contribute to a trove of 2.5 GHz spectrum.

McCaw is now chairman and CEO of Eagle River, a private investment firm focused on strategic investments in the communications industry.

“I’ve spent a lifetime working on technology to break down barriers so people don’t have to be confined to large metropolitan areas to communicate with one another and the broader world,” he said in a statement. “In my view, leveling the playing field is both a moral and practical imperative for our future. I’m incredibly impressed by Loon’s progress on this front, and I look forward to working with Alastair and the team to help realize the mission of connecting people in places that for too long have been left behind.”

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Walden most recently served as executive vice president and president of Global Media and New Business at Verizon, which she left in early 2018. She also worked at AT&T Wireless and McCaw Communications, in addition to having served as COO and EVP of Cellco Partnership, now Verizon Wireless.

“Loon holds a lot of promise for mobile network operators, providing a flexible and cost-effective solution to help reach new customers and better serve existing ones,” she said in a statement. “After decades in the wireless industry, I am excited to help the Loon team as they transition to a commercial enterprise and work with mobile network operators to connect users worldwide.”

Small said he first encountered Loon while working at Telefónica, where he was responsible for evaluating how a service like Loon could fit into an existing MNO like Telefónica across its many geographies and the variety of economies it encompasses.

“Both at Telefónica and in the time since, I have been incredibly impressed not just with the technology itself, but with the Loon team’s ability to continuously confront and solve a massive variety of technical and business problems in their ongoing quest to deliver a compelling commercial business model for connecting people anywhere,” he said in a statement. “I’m delighted to bring my combination of Silicon Valley and global telco experience to help the team connect the world with Loon.”