McCaw joins new advisory board to help Loon go commercial

One of the most iconic figures in US mobile industry history, Craig McCaw, is one of the heavyweights whom Google has attracted to a new advisory board for its Loon unit, which is launching wireless networks which can reach remote areas using tethered balloons or ‘stratellites.’

McCaw is famous for founding the USA’s original MNO, McCaw Cellular, in the 1980s, and then selling it to AT&T in 1994 as the basis of what became AT&T Mobility. He is also known for reorganizing Nextel and turning it into a successful operator by harnessing a patchwork of low-cost spectrum; and then as a founder of WiMAX operator Clearwire. Both these companies were sold to Sprint, Nextel in 2003 and Clearwire in 2013. McCaw is now CEO of Eagle River, a private investment firm specializing in strategic investments in the communications sector.

He is joined in forming the new advisory group by Marni Walden, a long-serving Verizon executive who left a year ago, after a spell heading up the global media activities; and Ian Small, former chief data officer at Telefónica and now CEO of Evernote.

“Mobile network operators have decades of experience delivering connectivity to billions of users around the world,” wrote Loon’s CEO Alastair Westgarth in a blog post. “With Loon’s technology, we see a valuable opportunity to help MNOs reach more people in areas that have been difficult or impossible to serve. Loon is an infrastructure solution that will allow MNOs to expand their networks and attract new customers.”

Loon graduated from being a Google moonshot project, to a pre-commercial activity within the Alphabet group called X, which deals with future-looking developments. Last summer, it was spun out to operate independently within Alphabet and to evolve into a fully commercial business.

“I’ve spent a lifetime working on technology to break down barriers so people don’t have to be confined to large metropolitan areas to communicate with one another and the broader world,” McCaw said in a statement. “In my view, leveling the playing field is both a moral and practical imperative for our future. I’m incredibly impressed by Loon’s progress on this front, and I look forward to working with Alastair and the team to help realize the mission of connecting people in places that for too long have been left behind.”

Small said he first came across Loon while working at Telefónica, where he was responsible for evaluating how a service of that kind could augment the existing MNO business model in a variety of geographies and economies. “I’m delighted to bring my combination of Silicon Valley and global telco experience to help the team connect the world with Loon,” he said.