Telecoms Question Viability of Loon Balloon

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UPDATE Inside Towers reported last month how the Loon balloon, owned by Alphabet, was used to get cell service back up and running in 48 hours for both civilians and first responders after an earthquake hit Peru.

 According to the company, Loon, “has taken the most essential components of a cell tower and redesigned them to be light and durable enough to be carried by a balloon 20 km (12.42 miles) up, on the edge of space.” Since 2011, Loon has aimed to bring connectivity to remote parts of the world where cell towers would prove too expensive to construct, reported Reuters.

 But now, detractors are questioning whether the balloon’s technology is viable. In just a few weeks, Loon’s balloons will travel to Kenya for a commercial trial in partnership with Telkom Kenya. The test will enable mountain villagers to buy 4G service at market-rate prices for an undefined period, according to Reuters.  

Executives at five other wireless carriers courted by Loon told Reuters that Loon is not a good fit now, and may never be. Those companies, including Telkom Indonesia, Vodafone New Zealand, and France’s Orange SA, say Loon must demonstrate its technology is reliable, safe and profitable for carriers. Hervé Suquet, chief technology and information officer for Orange Middle East and Africa said of the upcoming trials, “If the results are positive, we would then be potentially interested.”

 Loon has years of technical development and funding behind its balloons. Japanese telecom SoftBank Corp invested $125 million as part of a partnership this year. However, one Latin American carrier has an alternative idea: it will fortify its cell towers.

July 9, 2019

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