Loon’s floating internet platforms will be integrated with AT&T’s network, ready for deployment in the event of natural disasters

Alphabet’s Loon has struck a major deal with US operator AT&T, announcing that it has integrated its platform with AT&T’s network.

The idea behind this move is to allow AT&T to response quickly to natural disasters that may disrupt traditional internet infrastructure, with Loon’s internet-carrying balloons stepping in to fill the gap. 

“When disaster strikes […] our customers need connection more than ever,” said Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth.

Loon’s services have already been used by AT&T following Hurricane Maria in 2017, where the balloons provided internet to the island of Puerto Rico. At the time, it took around a month for the balloons to come into operation, but by 2019 this response rate was lowered to just 48 hours following an earthquake in Peru due to the company’s pre-existing operations there.

This is a big step for the balloon-based internet provider, since the deal extends to AT&T’s roaming partners, allowing them to quickly provide service to a vast number of operators worldwide.

“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," explained Westgarth in a blog post.

It should be noted, however, that this deal does not seemingly equate to an agreement on AT&T’s part to purchase Loon’s services, but rather greatly simplifies the process if they do make such a decision.

High altitude platform stations (HAPS) as an internet-delivery service are still very much in their infancy, but are increasingly being explored as alternatives to traditional internet infrastructure. The floating platforms quite literally overcome the obstacles presented by difficult geography, meaning they are perfect for remote, rural areas that would otherwise be inefficient for operators to cover.

However, these stations are not without their drawbacks, including plenty of technical challenges, such as signal penetration depth, as well as requiring complex regulatory approval.

In February, a group of operators joined forces with aviation companies to further explore this technology’s potential, creating the HAPS Alliance.


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