In January, Google announced it’s winding down Loon, a balloon internet project the tech giant had been working on for years. Loon was designed to provide affordable internet for the underserved, particularly in Africa.
But Loon’s balloon internet project was up against Elon Musk’s Starlink and Jeff Bezos’ Kuiper – all satellite internet projects with the same ambition, to provide affordable internet for all. At the collapse of Loon, the goal of providing affordable internet for the underserved was left for the satellite companies to fulfill – balloons were out of the question until now that another company is launching a balloon internet service.
World Mobile has announced the launch of its unique hybrid mobile network which is supported by low altitude platform balloons in Zanzibar. The company says it plans to roll-out its innovative service providing reliable mobile internet to more people at lower cost across African. These balloons act as floating cellular base stations transmitting radio signals to ground stations and personal devices.
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World Mobile CEO Micky Watkins said the launch will make Zanzibar world’s first smart region.
“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. Zanzibar will become the world’s first smart region powered by World Mobile, connecting businesses, schools, and society as a whole,” he said.
This ambitious project comes after a successful $40 million funding round and seeks to deliver access to the digital economy for over a million customers by the end of 2023. It also represents the first step in a mission to help bring nearly four billion people online before 2030, in line with the UN and World Bank’s sustainable development goals.
The company says the balloons are 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. 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 WiFi nodes – rolled out by January 2022 and 120 sites during the first six months of 2022 including the first aerostat balloon launch. Although, given the failures of Alphabet’s Project Loon which shut down in early 2021, these goals seem unlikely.
The rollout will cover approximately 75% of Unguja Island and provide access to the wider digital economy including communications, e-commerce, finance, healthcare, and education to the islands’ almost 900 000 inhabitants.
The remotely controlled aerostat balloons are powered by solar panels, inflated by helium, and tethered to the ground.
World Mobile says it already has agreements in place with the Zanzibarian government to provide connectivity for three hundred schools, and a four-step plan is in place to unlock Zanzibar’s Blue Economy, across marine industries. It is hoped that this time, the balloon internet project will live up to its purpose.