Blockchain-powered telecom network World Mobile has successfully launched the world’s first commercial telecoms aerostat.
The 11-metre high ‘envelope’ has been deployed close to the Limpopo river in Mozambique where it will be raised to altitude and deliver internet access across a 70-kilometre radius.
More than 60 per cent of its people live in rural areas with no internet access and little or no electricity. The lack of connectivity impacts heavily on access to healthcare, education, and economic opportunities.
According to World Bank, almost three-quarters of the unconnected population cannot afford internet services or devices such as smartphones and computers.
The launch of the world’s first commercial aerostat in Mozambique is one of the major steps being taken by World Mobile to address this discrepancy by building a mobile network that is accessible, affordable, and sustainable.
The launch took place near the rural village of Massingir, ahead of several weeks of flight operations, enabling engineers to gather data through custom radio payloads. This information will shape the deployment of additional commercial aerostats across Mozambique, and other under-connected regions around the world.
Gregory Gottlieb, Head of Aerial Platforms at World Mobile, has been overseeing the project in Mozambique where, he says, there has been a great deal of excitement.
“What’s been fascinating is we had a huge crowd watching the inflation – hundreds of people gathered to see the aerostat being inflated,” he smiled.
“The villagers here can’t connect, and this will allow them to walk long distances and still be connected, which will be life changing – nobody here can use a debit card because they can’t connect.
“Once this is operating this booms out across 70 kilometres providing a signal. It’s thrilling to be part of it. It’s thrilling to work with a big team in World Mobile, but also our partners too. It’s a very exciting time, and it’s been a privilege to do this.”
Remarkably, it’s taken little more than two-and-a-half months to reach the point of making the aerostat operational – including bureaucratic processes.
“It was a totally different experience than we’ve had before,” explained CEO Micky Watkins.
“The regulator wanted this, and it was just a matter of going through the process because we had all the information they needed, and they were prompt.
“The next few weeks will be about gathering data sets in order to understand real commercial data before we can deploy more – potentially 80 to a hundred over the coming years across Africa.
“We’ve turned a dream into reality. This is the first one – the first is always the hardest. This is the first retail aerostat in the world – and just 10 of these could connect a million people.”
The aerostats will be deployed roughly 300 metres into the air and tethered to the ground, providing last-mile connectivity using a custom radio payload. This means that customers can directly connect to the payload using internet-connected devices akin to a traditional cell tower. The aerostats offer standard cellular connectivity covering a radius of up to 130 kilometres, overcoming the challenges of terrain, infrastructure, and cost that often hinder the expansion of mobile networks.
Unlike traditional mobile networks, World Mobile is built on the blockchain, providing transparency, efficiency, and security. The use of blockchain technology also facilitates a distributed sharing economy that taps into the trillion-dollar global telecom market. Individuals and business owners around the world can operate nodes on its network and bring their communities online while earning revenue.
According to the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), there are 3.6 billion people in the world who do not use mobile internet. This includes the ‘connectivity gap,’ which is about 400 million people who are not covered by mobile networks at all. Of the 5% of the world’s population who aren’t covered by mobile internet, half live and work in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“The aerostat launch is a testament to the extraordinary efforts and dedication of our team, who have been working tirelessly to make this project a reality,” added Gregory Gottlieb.
“Our aerostats are designed to be scalable, reliable, and adaptable to different environments and use cases. We believe they have the potential to transform the telecoms industry in Africa and beyond.”
The initiative has also been praised by Alex Sinclair, Chief Technology Officer at the GSMA.
“This is a great initiative by World Mobile and we’re delighted to be supporting it, through our GSMA Foundry innovation accelerator,” he said.
“Of the percentage of the world’s population not yet covered by mobile internet, half live and work in sub-Saharan Africa, in rural villages like Massingir. It’ll be through more industry collaboration and innovative new technologies, like those launched by World Mobile, that we’ll be able to close the digital divide and help improve the lives of millions more people through connectivity.”