Pioneer project powers the Internet in rural Kenya

Microsoft in conjunction with Indigo Telecom are however hoping to remedy this situation, and fast, through a social enterprise dubbed Mawingu (cloud) that it is piloting in Nanyuki/OLIVE BURROWS

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 18 – The Internet is said to have transformed the world into a global village but not so much so for those villages that fall outside the broadband network both geographically and economically.

Microsoft in conjunction with Indigo Telecom are however hoping to remedy this situation, and fast, through a social enterprise dubbed Mawingu (cloud) that it is piloting in Nanyuki.

“It would take years and bucket loads of money to get electricity and network coverage or fibre to every part of Kenya but through Mawingu we would achieve Internet connectivity even in the remote parts of Kenya faster and at a fraction of the cost,” the project’s Chief Fundi (engineer) Malcom Brew told Capital FM Business.

Mawingu employs what are known as TV white spaces or what has been referred to as, “Wi-Fi on steroids,” to connect to the Internet.

“The Internet speeds can be even faster than 4G and use the ‘spaces’ between the allocated TV channels to provide a wireless connection to the internet,” Brew explained.

And as world moves from analogue to digital television, which uses up less spectrum, there are bound to be more ‘white spaces’ available for wireless connections.

“This will do for Kenya what the mobile phone did. It will enable us to overcome our infrastructural deficits and allow for revolutionary innovation akin to M-PESA,” Microsoft 4Afrika Marketing Director Tonia Kariuki enthused.

And while researchers have already established that the technology works, the Mawingu pilot’s aim is to work out the socio-economic aspects of it.

“This is not charity. We fully intend to make money by reaching those who have previously been unable to access the internet either because of where they live or because they cannot afford it,” Kariuki said.

Microsoft is working on a 4×4 model by which they hope to grow their portfolio through,” A4dable power, A4dable bandwidth, A4dable devices and A4dable services.”

“As you know we’re a company in transition. We are now a devices and services company and looking for opportunities in untapped markets such as rural Kenya,” Kariuki explained.

Mawingu which is currently providing Internet connectivity to the Nanyuki county government, Kenya Red Cross branch and the Gakawa Secondary School is therefore powering the pilot through solar panels in the interest of, “A4dable power.”

“This innovation couldn’t have come at a better time especially with our class one pupils getting laptops next year,” Nanyuki’s ‘Minister’ for ICT and education John Bosco told Capital FM Business.

“Northern Laikipia for example is an extremely hard to reach place and it may take ages before the electricity grid is extended that far or telco masts are erected. Mawingu overcomes these barriers,” he explained.

As the Internet code is transmitted via UHF signals, it also reaches much further than the typical Wi-Fi transmitter and one radio could cover an 85km radius.

“You just need to point your television aerial at the radio if you’re within 10km and purchase a converter – which is a onetime cost – then you access the Internet as you do with Wi-Fi,” Brew explained.

And while Microsoft and Indigo Telecom have touted Mawingu as the best thing since sliced bread, they would still need the Communications Commission of Kenya to sign off past the one year mark.

“It would be a shame if they imposed a heavy licensing fee because we are essentially trying to make the internet accessible to people who earn a dollar to two dollars a day,” Brew said.

And should Microsoft and Indigo Telecom succeed in rolling-out Mawingu nationwide, Brew projects the nation’s GDP stands to grow exponentially:

“Access to information is always a key indicator of growth so if we can get the 70 percent of Kenyans off the grid on, we’re talking growth in the double digits. Need I say more?”

OLIVE BURROWS :With a decade of storytelling under her belt, Olive Burrows has been with Capital FM for the last four years and perhaps most notably interviewed US President Barack Obama. Committed to asking the hard questions and telling the story in the most engaging way possible, she has also interviewed Melinda Gates, a UK Minister and severally had the opportunity to sit across from President Uhuru Kenyatta and address the pressing issues of the day. Other notables she has had occasion to seek answers from are UN Secretary General António Guterres and John Kerry in his time as US Secretary of State.