SoftBank unit invests RM518m in Google’s Loon

SAN FRANCISCO • One of the most improbable ideas from Google LLC’s eccentric co-founders — using high-altitude balloons to provide Internet connections — is getting a boost from another unconventional technology mogul.

An affiliate of Masayoshi Son’s telecommunications company SoftBank Corp is investing US$125 million (RM517.5 million) in Loon, a subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet Inc.

The SoftBank unit and Loon will share technology and ground stations, and form “an alliance to promote the use of high altitude communications solutions with regulators and officials worldwide”, according to a statement from the two companies.

The deal gives the SoftBank affiliate, HAPSMobile, an undisclosed minority stake in Loon. And in the future, Loon has the right to invest US$125 million in the unit, a joint venture between SoftBank and Aerovironment Inc that designs telecommunication aircraft.

The partnership will initially target service in countries near the equator, eyeing proximity to developing markets as well as abundant solar energy.

SoftBank, one of Japan’s largest wireless operators, began exploring alternatives to terrestrial antennae after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami knocked out a broad swath of its network.

While the idea of using aircraft as a flying base station has been around for decades, it’s only this year that the efficiency of solar panels and battery capacity have advanced enough to make that practical, SoftBank CTO Junichi Miyakawa said. — Bloomberg