Vodacom signs up with Loon to deliver 4G-by-balloon to Mozambique

Vodacom Loon balloon.jpg

Mobile operator Vodacom is to use Alphabet’s Loon balloon-carried base stations to extend coverage in Mozambique.

The balloons will float 20km above the ground in the provinces of Cabo Delgado and Niassa, in the north of the country close to the border with Tanzania.

Loon’s CEO Alastair Westgarth said: “We view this as the first step to a larger partnership that will allow us to serve more of those users throughout Africa.”

Loon is already experimenting with balloons in Kenya, on the other side of Tanzania, in a project with Telkom Kenya.

Shameel Joosub, the group CEO of Vodacom, confirmed the company’s interest in expanding balloon coverage. “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,” he said.

The balloons will deliver voice, data. SMA and USSD on 4G, as well as M-Pesa mobile financial services. Vodacom said: “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 a user 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.”

Vodacom and Loon will need to install physical terrestrial infrastructure to connect the balloons to the core network. And Loon said it will need “to learn the stratospheric wind patterns on which the balloons must navigate to remain above the service area”. They will be controlled with what Loon, owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, calls an autonomous navigation system.

Westgarth added: “Since Loon vehicles float on wind currents in the stratosphere, they are constantly moving in and out of a given service region. With two countries in close proximity to one another, we can share vehicles across service regions when it makes sense to do so, which will increase our utilisation rates. It’s pretty cool that in the lifespan of one vehicle, it could serve in multiple countries, multiple times.”


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