Saudi-backed SoftBank invests $125 million in Alphabet venture to put cellphone antennas in the sky

Japan's SoftBank Group Corp Chief Executive Masayoshi Son. (REUTERS/File Photo)
Updated 25 April 2019

Saudi-backed SoftBank invests $125 million in Alphabet venture to put cellphone antennas in the sky

  • SoftBank’s year-old HAPSMobile and Alphabet’s Loon separately have been trying to fly networking equipment at high altitudes
  • The goal is to provide high-speed Internet where ground-based towers are unreachable

SAN FRANCISCO, USA: A SoftBank Corp. business seeking to find a way to fly cellphone antennas high in the atmosphere to provide internet in underserved areas said on Wednesday it was investing $125 million in an Alphabet Inc spinoff working on the same problem.

SoftBank’s year-old HAPSMobile and Alphabet’s Loon, which spun out last July from the research incubator of the Google parent, separately have been trying to fly networking equipment at high altitudes to provide high-speed Internet where ground-based towers are unreachable.
Loon carries the gear with a large balloon, while HAPSMobile uses a large drone.
Despite Internet coverage gaps in rural areas or during natural disasters, mobile network operators, governments and other potential customers have yet to demonstrate much enthusiasm for buying skyborne technologies.
Also in the competition to fill the coverage gaps are several billionaire entrepreneurs, including Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos. Each is backing separate early-stage ventures that want to beam Internet from satellites in near-Earth orbit.
Loon and HAPSMobile said on Wednesday that collaboration could be the key to adoption. They are discussing the possibility of using each others’ technology, standardizing their airborne and ground networking gear and joining forces in regulatory discussions, they said in a statement.
The companies described their partnership as a “long-term” tie-up of one of Japan’s top three wireless carriers and one of the world’s biggest tech companies.
“I’m confident we can accelerate the path toward the realization of utilizing the stratosphere for global networks by pooling our technologies, insights and experience,” Junichi Miyakawa, SoftBank’s chief technology officer and HAPSMobile’s chief executive, said in the statement.
“Even in this current era of coming 5G services, we cannot ignore the reality that roughly half of the world’s population is without Internet access,” Miyakawa added.
Loon has tested balloons for nearly a decade and expects to hold its first commercial trial in Kenya this year.
HAPSMobile emerged from technology developed by dronemaker AeroVironment Inc, which owns 10 percent of the SoftBank subsidiary.
Loon said it has the option to later invest $125 million in HAPSMobile. 


 


British Airways burning through cash, CEO urges unions to engage

Updated 23 min 10 sec ago

British Airways burning through cash, CEO urges unions to engage

  • Job losses necessary as cash reserves of IAG, British Airways’ parent company, would not last forever

LONDON: The boss of British Airways said its parent company IAG was burning through $223 million a week and could not guarantee its survival, prompting him to urge unions to engage over 12,000 job cuts.
British Airways came under heavy attack from lawmakers in parliament on Wednesday, who accused it of taking advantage of a government scheme to protect jobs while at the same time announcing plans to cut its workforce by 28 percent.
Planes were grounded in March due to coronavirus restrictions, forcing many airlines to cut thousands of staff as they struggle without revenues. Airlines serving Britain now face an additional threat from a 14-day quarantine rule.
In an internal letter to staff seen by Reuters, Alex Cruz, the chief executive of British Airways said the job losses were necessary as IAG’s cash reserves would not last forever and the future was one of more competition for fewer customers.
BA also wants to change terms and conditions for its remaining workers to give it more flexibility by, for example, making all crew fly both short and long-haul.
Cruz said IAG, which also owns Aer Lingus, Iberia and Vueling, was getting through $223 million a week, meaning that it could not just sit out the crisis. The group had €10 billion of liquidity at the end of April.
“BA does not have an absolute right to exist. There are major competitors poised and ready to take our business,” Cruz said in the letter.
He urged two unions which represent cabin crew and other staff, GMB and Unite, to join in discussions to mitigate proposed redundancies. Pilots union BALPA is “working constructively” with the airline, he added.
Cruz also joined other airline bosses in criticizing Britain’s quarantine rule, due to come into effect on June 8, calling it “another blow to our industry.”