Yet another Google-related project with initially promising African prospects has reached the finish line. Alphabet has decided that flying Project Loon over rural settlements to bring them more internet connectivity won’t be sustainable after all.
While this is just about the major second internet-related project whose plug has been pulled in the past one year, the development is quite seems to also deflate the potential 4G coverage of a relatively underserved Southern African country: Mozambique.
Reminder: Google Station was also closed down last year for similar reasons.
Project Loon started in Africa in Kenya, from where the high-altitude initiative went to rural Mozambique to bring 4G to internet users. But after Alphabet, Google’s parent company, wound down the project, Vodacom’s Mozambican arm followed suit.
Last year, Vodacom entered a deal with Project Loon to bring 4G to the internet-slow parts of Mozambique. The deal, as of the, looked like the ideal way to promote mobile penetration, a replication of the project’s ambitions in rural Kenya.
The partnership would have enabled Vodacom provide 4G services to two of Mozambique’s most under-connected provinces: Cabo Delgado and Niassa. It is unknown how much the mobile operators invested in the project, but it remains committed to accelerating rural coverage in the country.
Vodacom has the honors of the first Mozambican telecoms service provider to launch 4G LTE services in the country. The network was switched on in places like Maputo, Beira, Matola, Nampula, and the Dondo municipality.
In a post that announced the project’s shutdown, Loon CEO, Alastair Westgarth, explained that the outfit’s business model has proved ultimately unsustainable.
“While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business,” he said.
“We talk a lot about connecting the next billion users, but the reality is Loon has been chasing the hardest problem of all in connectivity—the last billion users: The communities in areas too difficult or remote to reach, or the areas where delivering service with existing technologies is just too expensive for everyday people,” Westgarth added.
Vodacom might have to find another way to champion its 4G ambitions in Mozambique. In South Africa, the telco is joining hands with Finland-based Nokia to offer 5G connection to internet subscribers.
However, Africa isn’t the only place Project Loon showed promise. The initiative connected people during a natural disaster in Peru.
After a massive flooding incident, thousands of Persians were able to connect via the initiative, similar to how 200,000 people were able to connect to the internet after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
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