Broadband In Kenya: Small Businesses, Big Pipes

**free flow thoughts on Broadband in general and the advent of SEACOM cable in Kenya**

The 3 SAT3 countries of South Africa, Egypt and Senegal could be said to have fibre optic connections to the rest of the world or what others may call ‘true broadband’, the rest of the countries in Africa have to contend with VSAT connections or have their internet traffic routed through the above named SAT3 countries.

In the case of Kenya, fibre has been laid by companies such as Kenya Data Networks for communication within the country. The problem has been connecting Kenya to the rest of the world. That is where the bottleneck has been. The government of Kenya has been laying cable in many parts of the country, so is just a matter of time before high speed internet access is made available to urban areas and even smaller towns.

Do note the VSAT connections can have broadband-like speeds, so what we should look at is the connection costs and amount of bandwidth available.
For example, an E1 line (equivalent to the American T1) of 2 Mbps to ISPs costs 4000 USD in Ghana, Benin, Nigeria, 7000 USD in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, 32,000 USD in Cameroon, 25,000 USD in SA.

In residential access Telkom Orange charges about 5990 Ksh (approx. 75 dollars) for home access line of 256 kpbs downloads and 128 kpbs uploads per month. Many people use the Huawei wireless modems E220, E160 particularly in Nairobi with the 3G connections, utilizing a pay-as-you-go plan. Kenyan readers, how much do you pay for your internet access? what kind of speed do you get? Do you have a preferred service provider?

By and large, broadband access is very expensive. There are also other projects like TEAMS and EASSY (Quasi-Govt. consortium: Telkom Kenya/Orange is a member, as is Safaricom and Econet) that plan to connect parts of Africa to the rest of the world by Fibre optic Cable. So far SEACOM has arrived first and the prospect of having more competition could result in the cost coming down. Though that may indeed take time. For now, companies herald the arrival of SEACOM’s fibre optic line because it would mean an increase in productivity for businesses that depend on the internet. For example, there is a young businessman in Nairobi with an IT outsourcing company, with his relatively decent connection, he still has to wait for more than 5 minutes to download a 26MB file. In a few months with the SEACOM cable reaching Nairobi, the same download could take less than a minute and he can move on to other tasks. He has employees who often have to upload files via ftp to servers in the US. With the faster speeds it will make their jobs that much easier. He is not even too concerned about the cost right now, the overarching benefit is well…broadband.

There are other factors such as open access, latency, and reliability, but talking about that would be tantamount to counting chicks before they hatch no?

As always, feel free to chime in with your thoughts in the comments or via twitter if you prefer to be pithy.

Africa popping up in Trend Watch

Now this is positively surprising, though not to many Africa-watchers…
Africa is hot for business now, and its popping up in Time Mag’s trend watch. Great to see that ideas espoused at TEDGlobal Arusha 2007 are reaching the ‘center’ from the fringes.

It’s great to see Time magazine present some trends that are not obvious, well-worn, are already over. They take a chance in this list of ‘10 Ideas Changing The World Right Now.‘ The line up includes not your usual suspects. With any list like this, there is no telling which are likely, but they are at least plausible. Two extra points for a positive African scenario. The ten trends are featured in the pic below; details at the link.

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(Via KK Lifestream.)

In the back of my mind I couldn’t help but wonder…what of the global economic crisis? Wouldn’t that put a dent in this positive outlook? Oz has a great run down of how the global crisis affects Africa.

Blurb:

1. A slump in external demand affects exports and remittances.
2. A slump in external demand lowers commodity prices. Oil producing nations such as Nigeria are particularly vulnerable.
3. Lack of credit is stifling capital inflows and trade finance in the more advanced markets like Nigeria, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
4 The region is not immune to financial problems of its own. Credit has ballooned in many countries. Banks’ loan books are often concentrated in commodity-related industries.
5. Some retail investors borrowed heavily to punt on local stock markets.

You can also follow OZ on twitter.

\o/ Data Gathering With Mobile Phones

For those in the African technology space, the challenges of gathering data from the field in areas that are not quite ‘on-the-grid’ are apparent. Let me just keep it short by saying ‘Houston, we have a power problem’. Charging laptops when you are off-grid is not easy, but if you have a Nokia E71 that can stay for 3 days without needing a re-charge…well, you get the idea.

Last October I excitedly proclaimed just how much I loved Nokia because they had a data gathering app for E71’s, which they were making available for NGO’s to test out. Please forgive me for not blogging about it. but you can find more info on the mobile active wiki, or watch this 2 minute you-tube clip on tracking the Dengue fever in Brazil.

This brings me to the latest news from FrontlineSMS. FrontlineSMS forms provides a killer functionality of basically using SMS as the data carrying pigeon. This is how it works. The person running the FrontlineSMS hub creates forms with questions for the person in the field to fill in with information. The field agent only needs to have downloaded the forms client from http://forms.frontlinesms.com/, this will work on any Java enabled phone, which is preety much a whole lotta phones. They can then receive a form from the hub via sms, fill it in and send it back again via SMS. Hmm I like my data-pigeon metaphor! This eliminates the need for a GPRS connection. If the person is entering the data at a place with no mobile signal, the information is still saved in ‘offline’ mode until the phone has a mobile signal. I do have to point out that with \o/ forms you do not require an E71 or high end PDA like with the Nokia data gathering tool. I still heart Nokia, and would highly recommend the E71 if you need a smartphone.

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Read more about it over at Ken’s blog, Erik’s thoughts on the Ushahidi blog and Jon Thompson’s coverage on Aid Worker Daily.

This functionality adds more fuel to the mobile => Cloud paradigm that I feel will redefine the participation and engagement with communities in rural areas. Once the information gets back to the hub, it can sync with a web app like Ushahidi or any other web enabled implementation that takes input from the Frontline SMS hub. The pretty graphs and visualizations are best presented on the web IMO. Personally, I am looking forward to using FrontlineSMS \o/ forms to plan a kick-ass tree planting party!

PS: For \o/ users in Kenya, do note that FrontlineSMS works with the Safaricom E220 modem. If it works with the new USB stick version E160? kindly leave a comment.

When I met Ken during the Plan International workshop in Kenya, he said something that I cant help but pass along.
“Do not ask for permission, ask for forgiveness” Keep doing whatever it is you love to do, and do not be afraid to try something new. I think Tonee and I co-opted that for our new-years motto. Seriously though, if you have ideas for using \o/ in your work, check out www.frontlinesms.com. Ken and his team have built a very useful data gathering tool that could give your project even more reach. Plus, the folks in the forums are super-nice. Really.

Why Localization Matters

Define:Localization
“In computing, internationalization and localization (also spelled internationalisation and localisation) are means of adapting computer software to different languages and regional differences. Internationalization is the process of designing a software application so that it can be adapted to various languages and regions without engineering changes. Localization is the process of adapting software for a specific region or language by adding locale-specific components and translating text.”

Whenever I think about technology and Africa, the importance of localization really sticks out in my mind. I harken back to the posts by Ethan Zuckerman and Koranteng Ofusu Amaah to revisit this issue. Ever had problems with images you uploaded to flickr?

As a software designer, Koranteng understands how hard it is to get the details of localization right – full support for different character sets and text that reads right to left instead of left to right. But he’s also interested in the cultural details of software design, which can be so subtle that you’re unlikely to detect them unless you’re directly effected by them:

Koranteng wrote:

The first thing I very quickly noticed: somehow all the photos that I uploaded to Yahoo Photos turned out darker than on Flickr (the services both resize uploaded photos). The photo-resizing algorithm used by Yahoo Photos was giving worse results. This was noticeable to me because a large number of photos featured darker-skinned people such as myself. The originals were fine and where there were lighter skin tones everything looked good, but with darker skintones, the resized photos were not so good.

Ethan noted that Koranteng found similar problems with Flickr’s flash plug-in and slideshow feature, as well as with Adobe Photoshops Quick Fix and Auto Correct options. Has anything changed since 2005 when Ethan wrote about this? I do not think so, but correct me if i am wrong.

Localization matters because cultural sensitivity in technology is paramount to designing products that work as well as possible for all communities.

Localization matters because, as this African technologist’s said…
“if it’s meant to be local, it should be locally developed” – Paa Kwesi Imbeah

So where are we today in terms of localization of software in Africa?

The most successful story that illustrates what opportunities there are in solving African (sw localization) problems with African solutions is that of Ted Kidane of Feedelix. Feedelix is currently providing products that allow SMS editing in Hindi, Chinese and Ethiopic. Software made by an African and now providing products to the world.

Another organization to watch and take note of is Kasahorow in Ghana. These guys are doing some incredibly cool stuff.
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Kasahorow has been working on the Africa keyboards to aid in writing African content, in African languages. They are doing this for all the major operating systems. More info can be found here, including a downloadable package that you can try out. If your main language is Akan, Gaa, Gbe, Hausa, Igbo, Kikuyu, Luo, Swahili, Tswana and Youruba be sure to download that package.

Kasahorow is working on the ANLoc Project; a partnership with other organizations to address the issue of localization by creating locales, building tools, terminologies, standards, etc. More info about ANLoc can be found on African localisation dot net. Gotta love their tag line ‘The African Network for Localization’

There is a firefox add-on that Kasahorow released: Ladies and gentlemen, the Akan Dictionary for Firefox 3.0. Dare I say, cool stuff indeed.

Localization matters because it is empowering.
If ANLOC can succeed in its mission to enable Africans to participate in the digital age by making it easier for people to use technology in the language they are comfortable with, this only bodes well for the preservation of African languages and even fostering innovation. Ideas expressed in many ways, not just in English. (Yes, i do enjoy pointing out the obvious sometimes)

Like Jeremy Clarke of Global Voices put it simply: English != Global. The GV Lingua project, translates GV content from English to 15 languages, with Swahili and Polish translations having been added recently. Translations work best when the person has cultural context to allow for expressions in slang and language structures that are difficult to build into machine language. This is another example of localization + aggregation of content. Dare i say again, cool stuff indeed.

Another site to keep an eye on is AppAfrica, If i am not mistaken, there will be a project to translate tutorials from English to Swahili on their code repository.

On a global level, the ubiquity (firefox) experiment from Mozilla labs seeks to empower users and lusers heh heh to control the web browser with language based instruction. They want to make this available in more than 60 languages. Check it out here, and contribute to it if you can.
Watch this clip of Aza Raskin showing how ubiquity works.


Ubiquity for Firefox from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

All in all, in real estate they always say location, location, location…when it comes to African tech i would categorically say localization, localisation, localization. (thank the Brits and Americans for the spelling differences). I would like to hear your thoughts on localization, if you have other examples, and of course more on the mobile web, which I did not touch on on this post.

Small Scale Wind Energy – A call for papers

Via Afriwea

Picture 1.png

An International Workshop on Small Scale wind energy For Developing Countries will be held
September 14-16, 2009, Nairobi, Kenya
The workshop will cover the following main themes:

Wind energy technologies, their perspectives and applications in developing countries,

Reliability of wind turbines, lifetime and strength of wind turbine components,

Low cost and natural materials for wind turbines,

Case studies, social and economic aspects of wind energy in developing countries.

Abstract Submission

Please submit a two-page abstract (700-800 words, in MS Word format) by e-mail to haqi [at] risoe[dot]dtu[dot]dk no later than March 15, 2008. Authors will be notified of the Committee’s
decisions shortly thereafter.

Registration

All participants are requested to register before March 20, 2009. The registration fee is 200 EURO
for participants from developed countries, and 1200 Kenyan shillings for the participants from
developing countries
. After March 21, 2009, the registration fee increases to 350 EURO (developed
countries) and 3000 Kenyan shillings (developing countries), respectively. The payment of the
registration fee should be made either by credit card (Euro, Master or Visa), or by bank transfer.
Finally, after June 15, 2009, we take additionally late-registration fee of 70 EURO and 1000
shillings, for developed and developing countries respectively. The registration includes the access
to the sessions, coffee/refreshment and lunch/dinner.

Download the Workshop2009.pdf here.

PS: please stop laughing at the logo. My explanation, a lion was standing near a wind turbine, it farted a lightbulb or had a brilliant idea.

South Africa: State of The Mobile Web

SA_image.png Via ICT4D on Twitter

The Opera Mini mobile browser is gaining popularity even in my household (ahem Nokia E71), and the latest numbers from the State of the mobile web indicate the stats for SA. I did not find any stats on Kenyan usage, i suspect its still not a ‘critical mass’ to warrant inclusion in SMW. Would be curious if anyone has mobile web stats from Kenya, please share, because Tim Berners Lee said so!

Download SMW PDF here and read a summary with highlights and pretty graphs here.

From the report:

In 2008, we saw strong growth in Opera Mini usage all over the world, in both developed and developing countries. Social networks and search engines were competitive, as Opera Mini users determined their preferences.

emphasis is mine
I would not be surprised if traffic from the developing world eclipses that of the developed world in the coming years. If over 80% of BBC mobile site’s traffic comes from Africa…we are likely to see more dominance of mobile web usage by my fellow Africans.
I heard this bbc stat last year and cant for the life of me find the document it was mentioned in. Halp?!

Snapshot: South Africa (# of unique users)
Top 10 sites in South Africa (# of unique users)

1) facebook.com

2) google.com

3) wikipedia.org

4) yahoo.com (up from 5)

5) gamejump.com (down from 4)

6) my.opera.com

7) mxit.co.za

8. youtube.com

9) waptrick.com (up from 10)

10) live.com (back on the list)

Top social networks in 2008 South Africa
Facebook was the preferred social networking site for South Africans in 2008.

Web site Growth rate in 2008 (users)

facebook.com 187.48%

peperonity.com 66.44%

mocospace.com 189.98%

hi5.com 59.84%

I am shocked, who are these people using hi5?!!
It is quite likely that the stats for Kenya would indicate Facebook as the top site, would love to see how Zuqka is fairing on. @kahenya i am sure the TOS for Zuqka would definitely trump FB’s current heavy handedness?

Women Inventors and Innovators: Meet Bola Olabisi

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Global Voices had a wonderful meme that I marginally partipated in. I say marginally, because i did not exactly teach someone how to blog, though i added my 2 cents to a question posed about twitter, and was so glad to know that my input was helpful, and even more elated that the person I sorta ‘taught’ how to micro blog is an inspiration to many African women including me.

Bola Olabisi

Pic of Bola at TED Global Arusha

I was fortunate to meet Bola Olabisi of GWIIN (Global Women Inventors & Innovators network) in Long Beach during TED 2009. She is one extraordinary person. If you were at TEDGlobal 2007 in Arusha, you may remember her talk about women entrepreneurs and innovators. If not, click here for my post and here for Ethan Zuckerman’s blogging awesomeness.
I wrote of her TED talk:

Hers was a very inspiring talk because she exemplifies action. She saw something that wasn’t being done and just got on with making change happen.

To get updated on her organization’s work check out GWIIN. It will have a blog in future. Meanwhile, follow her on twitter. She is http://twitter.com/bola25 Tweeps, please welcome her.

So her statement about twitter was ‘I am still trying to figure out twitter’
This was my brief response, keeping in mind that she has an E71/s60 Nokia phone, and I hope its also helpful to others reading this blog.

1. Only follow people you are interested in. To message someone, type @ afromusing and short message following. This will be seen by all your followers. to direct message (without all your followers seeing d afromusing…

2. You can download an app for your e71 twibble so you can see your twitter stream on your cell phone. (this uses your data connection, so be sure you have a data package or a wifi-capable phone)

3. For a desktop client, use http://www.twhirl.org/ this allows you to share links, which you can shorten or http://www.feedalizr.com/ which can aggregate all your other social networks (plus it is an app made in Capetown SA)

4. I have intentionally omitted the section on updating your twitter using SMS because I think that functionality was disabled for countries other than US.

5. You can tie your twitter acct to your facebook account with the app http://apps.facebook.com/twitter/ such that when you update your twitter it updates your FB status too.

Happy tweeting…and a belated Happy Valentines! Add more tips in comments.

Milking The Rhino – Screenings in Africa

Happy New year!

Late last year, I wrote about the film Milking The Rhino, and promised to update once a screening of the film is confirmed in Nairobi.

Milking The Rhino

I am pleased to invite you to the premiere film screening of Milking The Rhino

Tuesday January 13th 2009 at 5 p.m

Goethe Institut – Corner of Loita/Monrovia Street Maendeleo House
Nairobi.

Cost: Free

The film will run for 85 minutes and there will be time for discussion following the screening. Some special guests featured in the film will likely be in attendance, Dr. Helen Gichohi, President of the African Wildlife Society in Nairobi and if possible, a representative of the Lewa Conservancy. Do join us for a discussion on community conservation, environment and film.

I will have some cool MTR buttons to hand out, and believe me, it would be well worth your evening to attend this screening.

You can RSVP on the facebook event page if you will be there.

January 28th 2009 – Accra, Ghana

EcoLab Conference
Hosted by The Society for Conservation Biology and Ecological Lab Unit of University of Ghana. MTR will be screening with a reception to follow.

*Many thanks to KikuyuMoja, Barbara Reich of Goethe Institute, Xan Aranda of Kartemquin films, William Deed of the Mara Conservancy and last but not least Jeannie Magill the executive producer of MTR for making this happen.

Do come and milk the rhino! 🙂

For info on other screenings in US and the rest of the world, please check the MTR website.

Lets talk about phones baby! …

Lets talk about you and me! Got your attention you Salt and Pepa loving peeps?O.k. Its been awhile since I mused on mobiles, but this is as good a time as any to get back to my ‘wag of the finger’ ‘tip of the hat’ thing…Indulge me.

First, I have been accused of hating on the Iphone a bit too much and being a Nokia fan girl. Those accusing me of this may be on to something. Here is why. I have previously wagged my finger at Apple for tying their beautiful device to a crappy provider like AT&T and ranted about my misgivings with the 1st gen Iphone.You see, i have had first hand experience with this monstrosity of a telco named AT&T. When I became blinded by the 3G speeds and the GPS on the new Iphone, i succumbed to the hype, the hipster call of duty and got the 16GB model of Iphone. First, the process of activating the phone at the Apple store did not go well, plus the ‘genius’ who was assigned to me was saying rather daft things like ‘i am required by Apple and AT & T to ask you whether you will be traveling out of the continental US’ and some other drivel all culminating in her telling me that I would have to get my phone activated by AT&T. After this that and the other, i finally got the phone activated and after even more drama that i shall save you the pain of reading and weeping, i was able to port my old phone number from T-Mobile. Let me just warn anyone reading this. Learn from my ginormous error people, do NOT for a moment think of switching from T-mobile to AT&T not even for the Jesus phone, Buddha phone or ‘There-is-no-deity’ phone. T-mobile is a far better company to deal with than AT&T, so save yourself the headache. I am glad to be back in the T-mobile fold thank you very much. Lets not even talk about unlocking your phone so you can use it when you travel, that would just be rehashing my old rant on this very point. Again, i learned first hand why I have unkind words for AT&T. In order for you to get decent rates when roaming, you have to sign up for a monthly roaming service where you pay an addition $5.99 so you can save a few cents on a pre-existing exorbitant roaming charge. So if you were to receive calls in say…Finland, if you had the roaming service it would cost you $1.19 per minute, if not, it would be $1.99 per minute or something close to that. Same applies if someone leaves you voicemail. You would still get charged at the roaming rate. T-mobile does not charge you a ‘roaming service’ fee. Data roaming is also very expensive. Do not dare get lost and use your Iphone maps for directions. You will flail, cry and quite likely faint when you receive your bill.

This pairing of a beautiful device with a crap company had me all worried when Apple announced that they would be making inroads into various parts of the world including Kenya. In the case of Kenya, Orange Telcom is the carrier of choice. Rebecca wrote about this in Network world August’08. Please be warned the following quote is plain and simple self promotion…But do I say?

Telkom Kenya will start selling the iPhone in Kenya next month after launching the Orange mobile phone service.
Orange entered into a contract with Apple that gave it the right to sell the iPhone in Kenya and the sale will commence once the service rolls out, said Njeri Rionge, chief commercial and marketing officer at Telkom.”My concern with the iPhone is the return to the old telecom hegemony where you are tied to one carrier because of a contract (since the telecom subsidizes the hardware), this system can be very annoying especially with the freedom that Kenyans have enjoyed in terms of their ability to switch carriers easily,” said Juliana Rotich, a Kenyan technologist.

Did you buy an Iphone in Kenya? What was your experience with Telkom like? Inquiring minds would like to know.
Ahem. moving along..

Second, the authoritarianism of the walled garden approach taken by Apple, particularly with DRMed songs on Itunes irks me to no end. I try to buy songs from Amazon MP3 store and would encourage all who believe in freedom, truth and chocolate to do the same. Yes hyperbolical of me, but dude, i wouldn’t want to be in your shoes when you use up your ‘authorizations’ from Apple because you switched between one too many computers/iphones. Lets not even talk about Apple yanking useful apps like Tether that would help you make the most out of that 3G data speed you are paying an arm, leg and pancreas on your Iphone data plan. Yes you can jailbreak it using Pawnage and get apps on cydia, but I digress.

All this brings me to my new device of choice.The Nokia E71, and my new device of drool and gadget lust, the N97

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*cc licensed pic by JKE on flickr

Just so you know I am seriously getting rid of my Iphone. Yes, i will miss the nice lines and one touch ease of interfacing with the web, the sleek simplicity of apps like Twinkle, Brightkite and even FB for Iphone. I will be content with Twibble and locr. I never got comfortable typing on the Iphone, sometimes I still pine for my old Q with the wide QWERTY keyboard, so E71 with its slimmer frame is a good compromise. The E71 is a phone that truly gives you wings…(sorry Redbull) You can travel with it, stick a local sim card and get talking, emailing, fringing, tagging photos with locr, mapping your way with the super fast GPS all the while having the freedom of having whatever blinking ringtone you want on it. I know you do not care, but I am indulging today aren’t I? My current ringtone is the song Gongo Aso by 9ice. I have the freedom to change it Moloko’s ‘Fun for me’ or Morcheeba’s Enjoy The Ride (Silver Saver Mix). Try doing that on the Iphone…you would have to pay Apple to create a simple ringtone?!! When Wired’s gadget lab proclaimed this phone ‘Best of Test’ I wholeheartedly agreed then and still do. On the podcast I think the guy said ‘This phone is not for everyone. It is for people who want a higher level engagement with their phone’ I haven’t even touched on the barcode reader! You know what, just head on over to Juergen’s for a complete rundown of E71 awesomeness if you haven’t already.

The Nokia N97

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CC licensed pic by Inky on flickr

From the looks of it, this could be THE phone that combines the best of ALL worlds, at least while the Morph concept phone remains just that. A concept.The N97 has a full QWERTY keyboard, touch screen, Micro SD slot and generous memory – 32GB onboard memory, you can add 16GB on the Micro SD card slot. For more spec-goodies see the Data_Sheet_Nokia N97.pdf. I care about the 32GB memory because if you truly want an Ipod replacement such that you would have one device to rule them all, and have access to your substantial collection of music, space matters. If for some odd reason you’d want to listen to Longomba’s ‘Vuta Pumzi’ while you recall the good times circa 2005-’06, or early 2000s Kenyan rap that sounds rather bad right now, yet at the time you were bobbing your head going…’oh this is nice’ well you’d have the freedom to. Wings from Nokia i tell ya. Wiiings! Caveat: The N97 does not have a flashlight. Readers of this blog know that i have this thing for Nokia phones with flashlights, and believe that it is The.Best.Feature.Ever! so on this one point, i am going to ding the N97 just a peg. If someone can hack the Dual LED camera flash to act like a flashlight when i type a combination of keys…well it is quite possible that I would sign over an IOU stating my infinite adoration to the person who hacks this. Yes oh yes, BET ON NOKIA.

I am looking forward to being in a country where i can switch mobile companies vuka/unvuka as I darn well please. Kenya, see you in a bit.