MOZAMBIQUE – Loon, a unit of Google’s owner Alphabet Inc, which uses high-altitude balloons to provide mobile internet to remote areas, has signed a deal with Vodacom to expand the South African mobile operator’s network in Mozambique.
Using the Loon solution, Vodacom will expand mobile network access to Cabo Delgado and Niassa, two provinces that have proven hard to cover in the past due to their size, topography and low population density, Vodacom said.
“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,” Vodacom Group chief executive Shameel Joosub said in a statement.
Each tennis court-sized polythene balloon is designed to float 20 km (12 miles) above sea level, twice the cruising height of a commercial aircraft.
The Loon balloons are powered by an on-board solar panel and will provide fourth generation (4G) coverage that supports data, voice, SMS and quick codes, which will also enable mobile financial services, Vodacom said.
It notes that 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 the coming months, Loon and Vodacom will continue installing terrestrial infrastructure, which will serve as the balloons’ connection to Vodacom’s internet and core network. They expect to begin providing the service in the coming months.
“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,” Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub said.
“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. We look forward to forging similar partnerships and projects across the continent, as we ensure that no one is left behind when it comes to accessing the global digital economy.”
In December, Loon signed an airspace access agreement with Uganda, while in July it announced a plan to use its balloon system to provide high-speed internet in Kenya. In 2018, Telkom Kenya became the first African telco to sign a commercial deal with Loon.
The Loon technology was also used by US telecoms operators to provide connectivity to more than 250 000 people in Puerto Rico after a hurricane hit the island.