Alphabet's Loon and Internet Para Todos Perú (IpT) have reached an agreement to use high-altitude balloons to expand mobile internet access to parts of the Peruvian Amazonia. The companies aim to provide service to Telefónica customers in Peru in 2020.
IpT Perú is an open access wholesale rural mobile infrastructure operator owned by Telefónica, Facebook, IDB Invest and CAF which aims to help bridge the digital divide bringing mobile internet to remote populations where conventional telecom infrastructure deployment is not yet economically feasible.
Loon and IpT will work together to serve parts of the Loreto Region (Peruvian Amazonia), one of the largest and most remote regions in the country, providing Telefónica customers with mobile internet coverage. According to Osiptel, the Peruvian telecom regulator, Internet penetration in Loreto is 100 times lower than in Lima.
Loon and IpT will initially provide service in certain locations that make up around 15 percent of Loreto’s area and where nearly 200,000 people live. About a quarter of them lack 3G or better service, and many others lack any reliable mobile service at all outside of populated areas. The deployment of Loon in Peru will make it the first country in Latin America to use this innovative connectivity solution on a sustained, non-emergency basis.
Loon and Telefónica in Peru started collaborating in 2014 when early tests of Loon’s technology began. In 2017 when the El Niño floods devastated parts of Northern Peru, Loon worked with Telefónica to provide Internet connectivity to those in need in an area over 40,000 Km² in size. Earlier this year when a magnitude 8.0 earthquake struck Peru, the two companies were again able to provide emergency connectivity.
Loon works by extending internet coverage to areas with low population densities using a network of high altitude balloons operating 20 km above sea level, well above air traffic, wildlife and weather events. Loon provides a full network as a service. The balloons act as floating cell towers, transmitting a provider’s service directly to a subscriber’s 4G/LTE device below.
To enable service, Loon’s balloons receive a signal from the ground, which is then shared across multiple balloons that spread it to users below using standard LTE signals. When a balloon is ready to be taken out of service, the lift gas keeping it aloft is released and the parachute automatically deploys to control the landing. Descents are coordinated closely with local air traffic control, and balloons are landed in a sparsely populated area. Recovery teams then collect the balloon and equipment for recycling. Loon has already landed hundreds of balloons in Peru over years of testing in the country.
Peru joins Kenya as the second country where Loon has signed a contract to expand the service of a mobile network operator using stratospheric balloons. In Kenya, Loon is awaiting final written regulatory approval to begin flying and conducting the final stages of network integration with its partner, Telkom Kenya.