LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE 360 SERIES – AFRICA: Google has “almost perfected” its Loon balloon technology, with the first deal with operators set to be announced “hopefully very soon”, Wael Fakharany, regional business lead for Google [x], revealed this morning in Cape Town, South Africa.
“For the last two years we have almost perfected the technology, it’s time for us now to scale in this part of the world,” he said in a session discussing rural broadband coverage.
When quizzed about the attitude of operators to the project, Fakharany said that “the response has been very positive, because we work very closely with operators and take on operators as our strategic partners”.
“The operators control the distribution, marketing, OSS, BSS, CRM – the customer relationship is with the telcos. We are just the infrastructure provider,” he said. “There is a viable commercial business model and is based on skin-in-the-game, sharing costs and revenue with operators for completely untouched potential.”
According to the executive, once the first deal with an operator is in place, others are likely to follow – but it needs someone to take the first step.
Loon is an ambitious project that attempts to use helium-filled balloons to provide internet connectivity, and has so far been tested by operators such as Telefonica, Telstra and Vodafone.
With regard to the status of the project, Fakharany said the focus for the near future is about bringing it to scale, and not just in the Southern Hemisphere, where its initial tests have taken place.
“The idea right now, which we are very, very excited about, is that as we enter 2016 it’s all about scalability. It’s all about marketing this as fast as possible not only in rural Africa, but rural India, parts of the US – this technology has to work as fast as possible, to reach as many people as possible.”
“Currently I am extremely busy working with the operators, the regulators, the governments, of all different parts of the world, to give us overflight permission, test frequencies, test sites. There are some developments with operators that are more advanced than others,” he said.
This is not the first time Google has publicly claimed that the initiative should not be regarded by the mobile industry as a threat to its existing business model. Last year Mobile World Live reported that Mohammad Gawdat, VP of Google’s X division, told operator delegates at a Huawei event: “This is not about disruption but I do urge you to do better and faster and urge you to think differently. Loon isn’t disruptive – this is outside the infrastructure you are currently building.”