SoftBank pumps USD125m into cellphone antennas in the sky venture Loon

2 May 2019

Japanese telecoms giant SoftBank Corp’s subsidiary HAPSMobile has invested USD125 million into Alphabet venture Loon, the developer of mobile networking equipment mounted on high-altitude balloons providing coverage in areas beyond the reach of traditional base stations. HAPSMobile, a joint venture of SoftBank and US-based AeroVironment which is also separately developing its own high-altitude mobile internet solution, has acquired a minority stake in Loon, a company spun out of Alphabet’s business incubator unit in July last year. Alphabet is also the parent holding company of Google.

Alongside the partnership announcement with Loon, HAPSMobile officially unveiled its own ‘Hawk 30’ unmanned solar-powered drone built for ‘stratospheric telecommunications’, travelling at altitudes of 20km. Whilst the current HAPSmobile and Loon businesses differ, the two firms intend to collaborate on various commercial ventures ‘to accelerate the deployment of high-altitude network connectivity solutions’. Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth said of the partnership: ‘We see joining forces as an opportunity to develop an entire industry, one which holds the promise of bringing connectivity to parts of the world no one thought possible. This is the beginning of a long-term relationship based on a shared vision for expanding connectivity to those who need it.’

‘I’m confident we can accelerate the path toward the realisation of utilising the stratosphere for global networks by pooling our technologies, insights and experience,’ added Junichi Miyakawa, SoftBank CTO and HAPSMobile CEO, noting that his company now has ’a right to observe board meetings’ at Loon. HAPSMobile did not expect to fund additional companies operating in the same field but was open to receiving investment, he added.

Japan, Google (Alphabet), SoftBank Group Corp