Alphabet’s Loon and Vodacom have signed a deal to use Loon’s balloon-powered internet solution to expand the Vodacom network in Mozambique. Going by this agreement, Loon will help Vodacom provide service to un-served and under-served parts of the country with a network of floating cell phone towers that operate twenty kilometres above the Earth.
Using the Loon solution, Vodacom will expand mobile network access to Cabo Delgado and Niassa provinces, two regions that have proven hard to cover in the past due to the vast and logistically challenging geographical areas, together with low population density. The Loon solution will provide a 4G service that supports data, voice, SMS and USSD. It will also facilitate mobile financial services. 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 fact, it’s unlikely that users will know that they are connected to the service provided by a high altitude balloon, except for the fact that they may have a signal in a location where it previously did not exist.
Loon and Vodacom have been working collaboratively with Mozambican communications and aviation regulators, including Autoridade Reguladora das Comunicações de Moçambique (ARECOM) and the Institute for Civil Aviation of Mozambique (IACM), to obtain the necessary approvals in order to serve Mozambique. The companies are grateful to have received approvals to start importing and installing the required ground infrastructure for Loon’s balloons to operate in the stratosphere above the country, and for Loon to provide service over the Vodacom network.
In the coming months, Loon and Vodacom will work together to continue installing terrestrial infrastructure, which will serve as the physical connection point for Loon’s balloons to Vodacom’s internet and core network. Loon will also begin flying balloons above Mozambique to learn the stratospheric wind patterns on which the balloons must navigate to remain above the service area. Network integration testing is ongoing in order to ensure that this innovative solution works as intended. Loon and Vodacom expect to begin providing service to users in the coming months.