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Internet connectivity projects unite as Alphabet spinout Loon grabs $125M from SoftBank’s HAPSMobile

Two futuristic projects are coming together to help increase global internet access after Loon, the Google spinout that uses a collection of floating balloons to bring connectivity to remote areas, announced it has raised money from a SoftBank initiative.

HAPSMobile, a SoftBank project that is also focused on increasing global connectivity, is investing $125 million into Loon, according to an announcement from SoftBank made this morning. The agreement includes an option for Loon to make a reciprocal $125 million investment in HAPSMobile and it includes co-operation plans, details of which are below.

HAPSMobile is a one-year-old joint venture between SoftBank and U.S. company AeroVironment . The company has developed a solar-powered drone that’s designed to deliver 5G connectivity in the same way Facebook has tried in the past. The social network canceled its Aquila drone last year, although it is reported to have teamed up with Airbus for new trials in Australia.

Where Facebook has stumbled, HAPSMobile has made promising progress. The company said that its HAWK 30 drone — pictured below in an impression — has completed its initial development and the first trials are reportedly set to begin this year.

Loon, meanwhile, was one of the first projects to go after the idea of air-based connectivity with a launch in 2013. The business was spun out of X, the ‘moonshot’ division of Alphabet, last year and, though it is still a work in progress, it has certainly developed from an initial crazy idea conceived within Google.

Loon played a role in connecting those affected by flooding in Peru in 2017 and it assisted those devastated by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year. Loon claims its balloons have flown more than 30 million kms and provided internet access for “hundreds of thousands” of people across the world.

In addition to the capital investment, the two companies have announced a set of initiatives that will help them leverage their collective work and technology.

For starters, they say they will make their crafts/balloons open to use for the other — so HAPSMobile can tap Loon balloons for connectivity and vice-versa — while, connected to that, they will jointly develop a communication payload across both services. They also plan to develop a common ground station that could work with each side’s tech and develop shared connectivity that their airborne hardware can tap.

Loon has already developed fleet management technology because of the nature of its service, which is delivered by a collection of balloons, and that will be optimized for HAPSMobile.

The premise of HAPSMobile is very much like Loon

Outside of tech, the duo said they will create an alliance “to promote the use of high altitude communications solution with regulators and officials worldwide.”

The investment is another signal that shows SoftBank’s appetite in tech investing is not limited to up-and-coming startups via its Vision Fund, more established ventures are indeed also in play. Just yesterday, the Vision Fund announced plans to invest $1 billion in German payment firm Wirecard and its past investments include ARM and Nvidia, although SoftBank has sold its stake in the latter.

Vodafone merges with rival to create India's largest phone network

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Vodafone’s India arm has merged with rival Idea Cellular to form the largest cellular service network in India.

The joint entity will have a subscriber base of nearly 400 million and a revenue market share of 41 percent, according to reports.

India with over a billion mobile connections is presently witnessing a telecom war  triggered by Reliance Jio, a low-cost 4G network started by the country’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani.

Jio, which claims to be offering the cheapest mobile data in the world, has lured 100 million customers in super-quick time, sending shivers down the spine of its peers.  Read more…

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One telecom carrier is fixing a major privacy problem you probably don't know about

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A telecom operator is trying to fix a major privacy problem that many of us are unaware about. 

Vodafone, India’s second largest telecom operator by subscribers, has introduced a new way for its subscribers, especially women, to top up talktime credit to their phones without disclosing their phone number to strangers. 

The new program, called Private Recharge Mode, allows people to add credit to their phones with a unique code instead of their phone number.   

It might sound like a non-issue to many, but in India, where over 90% of the billion mobile phone users are on prepaid connection, walk into mom-and-pop shops and hand out their phone numbers to top up their accounts.  Read more…

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India’s top mobile operator Airtel is buying smaller rival Telenor

bharti-airtel Less than a month after Vodafone confirmed it is in talks to merge with Idea Cellular and create India’s largest mobile operator, one piece of M&A has been confirmed in that space. Bharti Airtel has gobbled up smaller player Telenor India in a deal announced today. The Airtel-Telenor deal is subject to regulatory approvals, but both sides said it should be completed within the next… Read More

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India's Reliance Jio snags 72.4 million 4G LTE subscribers in just 4 months

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The telecom operator owned by India’s richest man continues to win over half-a-million subscribers each day.

The 4G LTE-only Reliance Jio from India’s largest industrial house Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) has revealed it has over 72.4 million subscribers on its network. 

The feat comes just four months after the service was launched to the public. The company said it is seeing over 600,000 subscribers join its network every day, at a pace that it claims surpasses the likes of Facebook, WhatsApp and Skype. Read more…

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