Google’s Balloon Internet Service Gets High-Powered Advisors

January 15, 2019, 2:00 PM UTC

Google’s Loon unit, which uses high-altitude balloons to provide wireless connectivity to remote or storm-ravaged areas, is getting some high-profile advisors.

Cellular pioneer Craig McCaw, former Verizon executive Marni Walden, and Ian Small, the CEO of Evernote who used to work for Spanish telephone company Telefonica, will fill the company’s initial advisory board, Loon said on Tuesday. The additions come about six months after Google’s (GOOGL) parent, Alphabet, shifted Loon from being part of the more experimental R&D unit X, where its first tests date back to 2011, to being a standalone company seeking to grow on its own.

The three experienced telecom executives should be able to help guide Loon under CEO Alastair Westgarth’s plan to partner with mobile carriers around the world, instead of launching its own services under its own brand. For example, Loon is partnering with Telekom Kenya to help the African carrier extend its reach to central sections of the country that lack reliable communications connections. Loon also assisted AT&T in Puerto Rico to reconnect customers after Hurricane Maria.

McCaw built one of the first national wireless phone networks in the 1980s, eventually selling his McCaw cellular to AT&T (T) for $11.5 billion in 1994. He currently runs the investment firm Eagle River.

Walden worked for decades in the wireless industry, heading Verizon’s wireless business at one point and later overseeing the acquisitions of Yahoo and AOL for the carrier. She left the company in 2017. Small joined Telefonica when it acquired his startup in 2012. He took over the top job at cloud note taking service Evernote last year.

“As Loon transitions to a commercial business and looks to partner with (mobile network operators) worldwide, we’re adding some serious expertise to our ranks with a new Advisory Board that brings together top wireless innovators with decades of experience in the industry,” Loon CEO Westgarth wrote in a blog post announcing the advisors..

With the Kenya, Puerto Rico, and other efforts, Loon says it has provided service to 300,000 people.

McCaw’s track record in helping new wireless services is not unblemished. His later ventures, such as satellite Internet service Teledesic and wireless data provider Clearwire, never caught on like McCaw Cellular.

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