Alphabet’s Loon Balloons Were Beaming LTE in Peru, Within 48 Hours of The Earthquake
When an earthquake that registered 8.0 on the Richter scale hit Peru on Sunday, mobile connectivity services were the first to get hit. This at a time when everyone wanted to know about the well-being of their loved ones. Help was at hand though, from perhaps a source that one wouldn’t immediately think of—internet relaying balloons, up in the sky. Alphabet Inc.’s subsidiary Loon LLC has revealed that it had balloons positioned above the earthquake hit Peru and were beaming down LTE connectivity for smartphones within 48 hours of the earthquake. These were activated after requests by Peru’s telecom operator Telefónica and the government of Peru.
“As Loon has evolved, we’ve come to better understand our ability to respond in disaster scenarios. Response is actually an imprecise way to view our unique capabilities. Preparedness is a more accurate way to understand them. It takes a lot of planning and setup to make balloon-powered internet work,” says Alastair Westgarth, CEO of Loon, in an official statement.
However, he does point out that before Loon’s internet relaying balloons can start providing LTE coverage over a region, they need to install ground infrastructure which can then integrate with the mobile networks. There are also regulatory approvals, and the requirement to stay out of flight paths, for instance. In Peru, Loon had the advantage of being ready with the on-ground requirements because of its on-going negotiations with Telefónica, the idea being to get a contract in place to extend mobile internet access to the remote areas of Peru, including parts of the Amazon region. “However, with Loon already active in a country, as is the case in Peru, our ability to respond to a natural disaster can be measured in hours or days rather than weeks,” says Westgarth.
This is not the first time that Loon has responded to a disaster in South America. In 2017, the company worked with Telefónica to provide LTE connectivity when northern regions of Peru were hit by extensive flooding. In the same year, Loon provided service with AT&T and T-Mobile after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.
This indeed could be a very important technology in the future, particularly at a time when a natural calamity impacts a region. The speed with which Loon was able to deploy connectivity services to further enable connectivity as well as the rescue and relief operations, could perhaps be a template that many other governments could also look at intently.