JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Loon, a unit of Google’s owner Alphabet Inc , which uses high-altitude balloons to provide mobile internet to remote areas, has signed a deal with Vodacom to expand the South African mobile operator’s network in Mozambique.
Using the Loon solution, Vodacom will expand mobile network access to Cabo Delgado and Niassa, two provinces that have proven hard to cover in the past due to their size, topography and low population density, Vodacom said on Wednesday.
“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 chief executive Shameel Joosub said in a statement.
Loon and Vodacom have been working with Mozambican communications and aviation regulators to obtain the necessary approvals.
Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth said this was the first step to a larger partnership that would allow it to serve tens of millions of Vodacom subscribers throughout Africa.
Each tennis court-sized polythene balloon is designed to float 20 km (12 miles) above sea level, twice the cruising height of a commercial aircraft.
The Loon balloons are powered by an on-board solar panel and will provide fourth generation (4G) coverage that supports data, voice, SMS and quick codes, which will also enable mobile financial services, Vodacom said.
In the coming months, Loon and Vodacom will continue installing terrestrial infrastructure, which will serve as the balloons’ connection to Vodacom’s internet and core network. They expect to begin providing the service in the coming months.
In December, Loon signed an airspace access agreement with Uganda, while in July it announced a plan to use its balloon system to provide high-speed internet in Kenya.
Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Kevin Liffey