World Mobile balloons bring IoT to Zanzibar

  • December 7, 2021
  • Steve Rogerson

World Mobile is launching a balloon-driven hybrid mobile network in Zanzibar that will bring the country full consumer retail and IoT coverage within two years.

The UK company is also in discussions with senior officials in Tanzania and Kenya to roll out similar projects.

The hybrid mobile network will be supported by low altitude platform balloons in Zanzibar, as the company plans to roll-out its service providing reliable mobile internet to more people at lower cost throughout the African continent.

The balloons will be the first to launch officially in Africa for commercial use, providing a more cost-effective way to provide digital connection to people compared with 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 raise – will deliver coverage and access to the digital economy for over one million people in Zanzibar by the end of 2023. It is 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 SDGs.

Data from the United Nations show almost half the world’s population, 3.7 billion people, the majority of them women, and most in developing countries, are still offline.

“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 Micky Watkins, CEO of World Mobile. “Zanzibar will become the world’s first smart region powered by World Mobile, connecting businesses, schools and society as a whole.”

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.

The roll out will cover approximately 75% of Unguja Island and provide access to the wider digital economy including communications, ecommerce, finance, healthcare and education to the islands’ 896,000 people.

“Mobile internet services are becoming quite popular in Zanzibar, like everywhere else around the globe,” said Said Seif Said, director general of Zanzibar’s e-government agency. “These services bring online access to information and communication to the masses through their mobile phones, helping bridge the existing rural and urban digital gap. More crucially, however, these services are singularly responsible for promoting financial inclusion by allowing the banked and underbanked in Zanzibar to participate fully in the emerging digital economy. While these services have become indispensable, the high price of communication is a major entry barrier for the poor majority. World Mobile’s service launch of affordable internet service in Zanzibar will be a game changer allowing the vast majority of Zanzibaris to fully participate in the digital revolution.”

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.

The World Mobile approach is more sustainable, in environmental, social and governance terms. Environmental impacts are mitigated using solar-powered nodes, second-life batteries and energy-efficient technology.