The collaboration, says the company, which offers a network of high-altitude balloons to enhance communications connectivity, will put it in a position to respond more quickly and effectively to disasters worldwide.
“Loon can be incredibly effective in times of crisis or disaster,” says Alastair Westgarth, CEO of Loon. “Because even in a place that has good mobile network coverage, people who were served can quickly become unserved for significant periods of time when a disaster hits. Loon’s unique ability to provide resilient and flexible service makes our solution an important and powerful tool in such scenarios.”
However, says the company, disasters by nature are unpredictable, creating a significant hurdle in deploying and enabling the Loon network, which requires government and regulatory approvals, ground infrastructure, and local network integration. Depending on how much progress has been made on each of these necessary requirements, the company’s response time in a disaster situation can vary greatly.
Under the collaboration with AT&T, the company says it has successfully integrated its system with AT&T’s network.
“This is a big deal,” says Westgarth, “because this network integration will extend to AT&T’s partners around the world, meaning Loon will be able to provide service to a third-party mobile operator, assuming they have a standard international roaming relationship with AT&T. While coordination with a local operator will be crucial, Loon’s ability to leverage the AT&T network vastly expands the number of operators around the world that Loon can work with without having to complete time-intensive network integration for each one. In a disaster scenario, this will save valuable time and enable Loon to simultaneously serve several, if not all, the mobile operators in a market.”
While the collaboration will greatly simplify the network integration element of Loon’s disaster response, says the company, there is still work needed on the other two elements required for a Loon deployment – government approvals and ground infrastructure installation – to better position the company to respond to more disaster scenarios.
“On these two fronts, we are making significant progress,” says Westgarth.
In the last few months, the company says it has secured approvals to fly over additional countries, including Kenya, Uganda, Namibia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Malawi, and Lesotho. This brings to over 50 the total number of countries and regions Loon has approval to fly over. And with hurricane season approaching in the Caribbean, says the company, it’s working to strategically install ground stations in the region so it can reach more countries in a time of need.
“We’ve moved away from thinking primarily about disaster response,” says Westgarth. “We now primarily think about disaster preparedness. If we can prepare the necessary elements that go into a Loon deployment in advance, we’ll be able to measure our ability to respond to a disaster not in weeks, but in days or hours.”
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