Vodacom announced on Wednesday that it will use Google’s high-flying balloons to provide Internet service to un-served and under-served parts of Mozambique.
The Vodafone-owned company said it had entered into a partnership with Alphabet, the parent of Google, to bring network access to previously uncovered populations via stratospheric internet balloons.
Alphabet’s Loon will help Vodacom Mozambique 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.
Mobile network access will be expanded to Cabo Delgado and Niassa provinces of Mozambique.
The Loon solution 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 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’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,” Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub said.
“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.”
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 to enable service in Mozambique.
“Vodacom has a big footprint in Southern Africa, and provides service to tens of millions of people across multiple countries every single day. We view this as the first step to a larger partnership that will allow us to serve more of those users throughout Africa,” said Loon’s CEO Alastair Westgarth.
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 to ensure that this innovative solution works as intended.
Loon and Vodacom expect to begin providing the service to users in the coming months.