Vodacom has signed a deal with Google parent company Alphabet to use Loon Internet balloons to expand its network in Mozambique.
In terms of the 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 20 kilometres above 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.
Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub said the partnership will help bridge the digital divide.
“Vodacom’s partnership with Loon is a perfect example of how technological innovation can connect the most rural communities in Africa,” Joosub stated.
“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,” he added.
Approval process concluded
The companies said they are grateful to have received approvals to start importing and installing the required ground infrastructure for Loon’s balloons to operate 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 which the balloons must navigate to remain above the service area.
Network integration testing is ongoing to ensure that this solution works as intended. Loon and Vodacom expect to begin providing service to users in the coming months.
How Loon balloons work
Loon balloons drift in the Earth’s stratosphere and are able to provide wide coverage in areas which don’t have sufficient telecommunications towers.
Each balloon can cover an area of 80km in diameter, while the balloon communicates with telecommunications towers to connect them to a mobile network.
The Loon solution in Mozambique will provide a 4G service that supports data, voice, SMS and USSD, which will also enable 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 to connect to the service; they will connect just as they would to a normal cell tower.
Loon has also partnered with Telkom to provide Internet connectivity to rural areas in Kenya.