Editor’s note: This blog was originally published by the Loon team on May 12, 2020. In 2021, Loon's journey came to an end. The Loon team have shared their flight data and technical, operational and scientific insights in The Loon Collection to support the next generation of stratospheric innovation. Thank you to everyone who supported the Loon team along the way.
With Loon’s deployment of balloon-powered internet already underway in Kenya, I’m incredibly excited to announce that we’re expanding our footprint in Africa. Loon and Vodacom have signed a commercial contract to begin serving the Cabo Delgado and Niassa provinces of Mozambique, two regions that have proven hard to cover in the past due to their vast and logistically challenging geographies.
We’re extremely pleased to be partnering with Vodacom, one of Africa’s largest mobile network operators. Vodacom has a big footprint in southern Africa, and provides service to tens of millions of people across multiple countries every single day. With Loon’s Mobile Network Expansion (MNE) solution, we’ll help Vodacom reach more users in Mozambique and bring connectivity to places where it previously didn’t exist.
A contract with an operator like Vodacom is a prerequisite for Loon to provide LTE service in any country. But it’s not the only one. In order to serve we also need access to a country’s airspace as well as regulatory approval to utilize spectrum and import and install ground infrastructure. Over the past few months, the Loon and Vodacom teams have been working collaboratively with various regulators to secure these approvals and enable the service. Thanks to this work and partnership, we’re pleased to now have the necessary permissions to fly above Mozambique, to import and install ground infrastructure, and to serve Vodacom users with Loon’s floating cell towers.
In the coming months, we will continue to install ground infrastructure and begin flying test flights so Loon’s autonomous navigation system can begin learning the wind patterns in the stratosphere above Mozambique.
As Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub says “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. 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.”
While expanding to our second country in Africa broadens the impact that Loon can have, it also brings with it benefits for the operational efficiency of our fleet. 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 utilization rates. It’s pretty cool that in the lifespan of one vehicle, it could serve in multiple countries, multiple times.
The Loon team is excited to expand the impact of our mobile network expansion solution in Africa, continuing our drive to connect people everywhere.