The guys at Explan were kind to answer the questions we had about the Solo project (Thank You Paul!), the series of posts are broken down as follows.
Part I – Introduction and abit of background on the solo project
Part II – Technical questions answered with the assistance of KikuyuMoja
What next, what now – which style of IT implementation is more appropriate to users in
– A major city like Nairobi and Kisumu
– Rural town/village?
Maitha in responding to the Negroponte’s OLPC initiative noted that its cool to want to develop a cheaper computer for Africa, but doesnt Africa deserve high quality computers? [Negroponte:Linux might not be thin enough for the $100 laptop] There is a danger that Maitha points out, of which i agee with is that the OLPC initiative (Its AID Strategy notwitstanding) might end up being a white Elephant.
Contrast that with the research that the Solo Project is undertaking, who is making an effort to understand Africa’s specific computing needs.
Pardon (or not!) the brief digression.
I was in Nairobi and everything modern that is available in the ‘West’ is also available there, so i am looking at the solo project as being something that is more suited to rural and remote areas with no access to grid/mains electricity, but still need computers for managing small businesses or for use in schools and libraries. Oh give me a sec, on Nairobi, with KDN laying fibre/fiber (oh tomato tomatoe lets just get on with it); Paul pointed out something that i hadnt really considered, but
“Fibre is not an easy technology to understand.
Many people don’t realise that it is only a point-to-point system. It
costs a large amount of money to terminate a fibre and distribute the
data to other hardware. But the fibre itself costs little per metre.
So if you wanted to link one university to another and send large
quantities of data, then this makes sense to use fibre.
But if you wanted to link 100,000 people in a city to 1000 outlying
towns, then this is massively expensive. You would need about 2000 fibre
connections and a massive copper-cable network for the users to connect
The World Bank made this mistake when they funded a fibre ring which
encircles all the countries of South America. The geography of the
continent means that this reaches the major cities where over 30% of the
However, because there is no end-distribution system, the fibre
terminates in the main universities and government depts. Everyone else
who wants to send data can only do so by connecting to the existing
low-quality telephone system. This is the major problem with fibre. It
can run at amazing speeds, but if you have no access point or you are
1 mile beyond the fibre, then it is useless to you.”
I guess you could have a WIMAX or Wifi implementation, with fiber as the backbone (this is something that D talked about before so its not my original idea, but hey) such that wifi/enabled computers can connect to access points/hotspots. When i was there we were able to connect to wireless networks in the main city centre, oh here is a thought, San Fransisco might get to be first in providing free wifi, so fast forward a couple of years (I am being overly optimistic i know – but kenyans have a way of shocking you in a nice way) I cant help but think that Nairobi could provide it too? Well, if you havent already, check out this free book on wireless networking for the developing world, and Via KP (noo not Kim Possible..though that would be a nice nickname…)check out Roofnet.
Ok, now to the rural areas:
Solar implementations are very expensive. Paul pointed out something that makes that even clearer. A 200W solar array and lead acid batteries to run second hand laptops cost 3 times more than the cost of a new laptop! So if solar power is to be used, then the devices need to use little energy in the first place.
Personal Ownership or Shared Computer?
Speaking of shared computers, check out Ndiyo’s installations in Attridgeville South Africa. Interesting stuff.
The solo project’s view is that the major market should be for a shared one, owing to the stronger social structure, where people are more likely to share more than the west.
What do you guys think?
The best place for Solo computers would be in the admin offices of the
local micro-finance organisation. This would enable the MFI-scheme
members to send and receive emails and have access to customs forms for
export, and data on international couriers.
This would have a dramatically greater effect on the local economy than
could be achieved if Solo computers were purchased by individuals.
The other thing that Paul pointed out is the idea that computers are viewed as a status symbol, or having ‘an aspect of western civilization’ in their life. [*But do i say!…i couldnt resist it]
*It would take a whole other post to explain that very Kenyan saying/joke that might be getting old?
Chime in with your thoughts…