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Zanzibar and Pemba are about to Become a Test Site for a Mobile Internet Network

UK company World Mobile is launching a hybrid network using aerostats — blimp-like tethered balloons that it says will provide near-blanket coverage across the islands. Two solar-powered, helium-filled balloons will float 300 meters above land and have a broadcast range of around 70 kilometers apiece, using 3G and 4G frequencies to deliver their signal.

The balloons can survive winds of up to 150 kilometers per hour and stay airborne for up to 14 days before descending for refilling. In the few hours of downtime, other aerostats will be airborne, ensuring users are never without service, says the company. World Mobile will be aiming to succeed where larger companies have failed.

Facebook’s Project Aquila, an internet delivery system using high altitude drones, was closed in 2018. Loon, which used stratospheric balloons to deliver internet connectivity, and was part of Google parent company Alphabet, folded in January 2021.

Derek Long, head of telecoms and mobile at technology advisory firm Cambridge Consultants, says Loon and Facebook didn’t succeed because they could not make the economics of their systems work, among other factors.


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