Vodacom, Loon bring internet balloons to rural Mozambique
The internet balloons will provide a 4G service that supports Data, Voice, SMS and USSD
As part of a new Loon and Vodacom deal, the companies will use Loon’s balloon-based internet solution to expand the Vodacom network in Mozambique so that it can service un-served and under-served parts of the country. Specifically, the internet balloons will provide a 4G service that supports data, voice, SMS and the GSM messaging protocol USSD to the Cabo Delgado and Niassa provinces, two regions that have been hard to cover because of a low population density coupled with vast and logistically challenging geographical areas.
According to Vodacom Mozambique Chief Technology Officer Pedro Rabacal, the partnership is a symbol of the progress being made in Mozambique’s mobile communications technology sector.
“With this action, we reaffirm our position as a company focused on innovation and, above all, on providing an increasingly better experience to our customers. We have ambitions to continue to grow with more modern and comprehensive solutions by improving the quality of our services and responding positively to the needs of Mozambicans,” he said. “This partnership with Loon offers a key solution that will significantly accelerate Vodacom’s 4G coverage to areas of Mozambique that have been challenging to service. Our aim is to expand and push to the edge of coverage so as to provide the same quality voice, data, sms and M-Pesa services to all Mozambicans”.
Service will be available to any Vodacom subscriber with a standard 4G-VoLTE enabled handset and SIM card and the user will connect automatically just as they would any cell tower. The press release even pointed out that users will most likely not realize that they are being connected via a high-altitude balloon.
Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub indicated that the operator hopes to implement a similar solution in other African countries: “Vodacom’s partnership with Loon is a perfect example of how technological innovation can connect the most rural communities in Africa. 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.”
In order to gain the necessary approvals to operate in the country’s airspace, 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).
Over the next few months, the companies will work to install terrestrial infrastructure, which will serve as the physical connection point for Loon’s balloons to Vodacom’s internet and core network. Loon will also educate itself on Mozambique’s stratospheric wind patterns by flying balloons above the country.
According to the companies, service should be available in the coming months.
A recently formed coalition of companies consider using unmanned aircraft systems to provide internet services a “multi-billion-dollar market opportunity” in telecommunications planetary observation and weather prediction and modeling.
The coalition, dubbed HAPS (High Altitude Platform Stations or High-Altitude Pseudo-Satellites) Alliance laid out what is described as a “rare, untapped commercial opportunity in the skies above Earth’s atmosphere.”
The alliance includes Alphabet’s Loon and Japan’s SoftBank, which have collaborated via HAPSMobile, a SoftBank subsidiary, on modifying a HAPS payload so that telecom equipment can be carried. But it also includes network equipment companies Nokia and Ericsson, as well as carriers China Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica and Bharti Airtel.
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