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World Mobile announces plans for balloon-powered cellular network in Zanzibar

David Murphy

Telco World Mobile has announced the launch of a hybrid mobile network supported by low altitude platform balloons in Zanzibar, with plans to roll-out the service, providing reliable mobile internet to more people at lower cost, throughout the African continent.

World Mobile’s balloons will be the first to officially launch in Africa for commercial use, providing a more cost-effective way to provide digital connection to people compared to rolling out legacy internet infrastructure. The remotely controlled aerostat balloons are powered by solar panels, inflated by helium and tethered to the ground. Once airborne, they act as floating cellular base stations transmitting radio signals to ground stations and personal devices.

The project – the first since a successful $40m (£30m) fundraising round – will deliver coverage and access to the digital economy for over 1m million people in Zanzibar by the end of 2023. World Mobile already has agreements in place with the Zanzibarian government to provide connectivity for 300 schools, and a four-step plan is in place to unlock Zanzibar’s Blue Economy, across marine industries.

This roll-out is the first step in World Mobile’s mission to help bring nearly 4bn people online before 2030 in line with the UN and World Bank’s Sustainable Development Goals. Data from the United Nations shows that almost half the world’s population, 3.7bn people, the majority of them women, and most in developing countries, are still offline.

Beyond Zanzibar, World Mobile is in discussions with government officials in Tanzania and Kenya, as well as other territories underserviced by traditional mobile operators. It plans to have 20 mesh sites – local wi-fi nodes – rolled out by January 2022, and 120 sites during the first six months of 2022 including the first aerostat balloon launch.

The roll out will cover approximately 75 per cent of Unguja Island and provide access to the wider digital economy including communications, e-commerce, finance, healthcare, and education to the island’s 896,000 people. 

“We want to help create a world where everyone can access affordable connectivity, a world where economic freedom is a truth and a world where people are able to jump on the opportunities that internet creates,” said World Mobile CEO, Micky Watkins. “Zanzibar will become the world’s first smart region powered by World Mobile, connecting businesses, schools and society as a whole.”