UK-based connectivity provider World Mobile has outlined plans to launch a hybrid mobile network supported by low altitude balloons as the first step in an ambitious plan to launch affordable internet services across Africa.
World Mobile explained in a statement it will remotely control the aerostat balloons powered by solar panels and inflated by helium, adding that once airborne, the balloons act as floating cellular base stations transmitting radio signals to ground stations and personal devices.
The company asserted its balloons will be the “first to officially launch” in Africa for commercial use, offering a cheaper alternative to legacy internet infrastructure.
World Mobile states on its website it was founded to bridge the digital divide, and has a focus on cryptocurrency and blockchain. It raised $40 million for the balloon project and aims to deliver coverage to more than 1 million people in Zanzibar by the end of 2023.
World Mobile revealed it was in discussions with governments in Tanzania and Kenya, as well as unnamed “territories underserved by traditional mobile operators”, about expanding the project further.
The initiative will likely have doubters, particularly after even the mighty Alphabet pulled the plug on its own balloon-based internet connectivity project Loon earlier this year after eight years of development and a handful of operator partnerships for commercial launches.
World Mobile CEO Micky Watkins insisted its project will be a “game changer”, allowing the vast majority of people in the Zanzibar archipelago to participate in the digital revolution.