Loon, the Alphabet-owned company that’s using stratospheric balloons to provide high-speed bandwidth to hard-to-serve areas without strong ground infrastructure, has signed a new deal with carrier Vodacom to expand its offering in Africa to Mozambique. This is the second commercial agreement that Loon has in place in the continent, and its close proximity to Kenya, where its first deal is in place, means that the company will be able to use balloons across both markets.
The way Loon provides internet is by sending balloons to extremely high altitudes, equipped with radio equipment that effectively turns them into floating cellular broadband towers. The stratospheric positioning means they can cover a much wider area than ground-based cell towers, and reach areas where it’s been hard due to costs or accessibility to actually put in ground towers to begin with.
The deal for coverage in Mozambique will work similarly to its arrangement in Kenya, providing access to Vodacom’s customers in Cabo Delgado and Niassa, two provinces in the country. Connectivity simply wasn’t available at all to some of the areas covered under the new agreement, and Loon has already worked with its partners to secure the permissions necessary to fly its balloons over the target coverage areas.
Next up is installing more ground infrastructure that can help relay the signals needed to ensure consistent connectivity, and Loon will also be test flying its balloons above Mozambique in order to gather the data necessary for it to train the automated systems that fly them while in operation. Loon’s tech works by training algorithms to determine the best way to navigate stratospheric air currents in patterns that mean the balloons can stay in a relatively stable position over the target coverage area.
As mentioned, the close proximity of Mozambique to Kenya means that Loon will be able to figure out even more efficient ways to share balloons across both areas, so that when they float out of one country’s coverage area, they’ll be able to float into one for the other. That should give you a clue about Loon’s future expansion plans — economically, it makes the most sense for it to pursue partnerships in areas where it can realize even more of these kinds of efficiencies.