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.

\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.

formsclient.jpg

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.

Xenophobic Attacks in SA – How to help

When events happen that shock us, sadden us and make us generally quite depressed, it is heartening to find a way to channel those feelings into assistance. United For Africa uses the Ushahidi engine, and they’ve populated the ‘How to Help’ and the Donation sections of the site. So when you read reports that make your heart sink, you can make a difference. Most of the links on the ‘How to Help’ page are for local donation/assistance centers, though for the online/diaspora folks, you can donate online to the South African Red Cross Society using your credit card.
unitedforafrica.png

Ushahidi: Thank You!

crossposted on the Ushahidi Blog.
ushahidi_v1d_200px.jpgDuring the month of March we appealed for your help with Ushahidi’s entry into the N2Y3 Mashup challenge. It is with your support that we are delighted to announce Ushahidi’s participation in the last phase of the mapping challenge. We could not have made it without you and we sincerely Thank each and every one of you for your votes, your encouragement and most of all for your ideas.

David and Erik will be going to San Fransisco next weekend to participate in development sessions with other technical experts, product managers, and engineers. It will be a great opportunity for Ushahidi to get some funding towards further development of the Mashup. Wish them luck would ya?

For now, we just wanted to thank you again for your support. A big part of Ushahidi is your participation, and with that, we are looking forward to making this project an even bigger success.

Asanteni Sana!! [Thank you very much]

**More updates will be posted on the Ushahidi blog and also on the NetSquared blog. Ushahidi also has a twitter channel http://twitter.com/ushahidi for bite-sized updates.

Andrew Mwenda arrested by Ugandan Officials

Update:04/28/2008 “Andrew is out of jail on Bond, he has to report to the police tomorrow.”
Thanks for the good news Emeka

This piece of news via the TED blog is terribly worrisome. Andrew Mwenda, arguably Africa’s most refreshing intellectual and journalist, has been arrested by Ugandan officials. More here.

This is utter injustice, and i am not even sure where to begin. For now, highlighting it on this blog seems to be one way, please highlight it on yours too, and I am sure some initiatives and online campaigns are being organized. Keep an eye on the TED blog for Updates.

Below is a picture i took of him last year at TEDGlobal. He is the one in the middle with glasses,looking at the Mamamikes remittance site, and speaking with Segeni.
Mama Mikes Demo

Local Kenya Number for UShahidi – 6007

ushahidi

Please text incident reports to 6007, kindly include the location where you are texting from. The information will appear on Ushahidi.com. Kindly pass this along to everyone in Kenya, particularly in the rural areas. By and large coverage of the situation in Nairobi is extensive, but we need information from the rest of Kenya as well. Thank you for your support.

Quick notes

Just a note of thanks to all the African bloggers who joined in Blog Action day. I learned so much from all the posts, and i hope you find something in the globalvoices roundup that resonates with you.

Via muti and Justin Hartman on twitter
Press freedom in South Africa is under threat:

I write this having just heard that the editor of this newspaper, Mondli Makhanya, and its head of investigations, Jocelyn Maker, will be arrested this week. Their crime is that they published a story alleging that the Minister of Health, Dr Manto Tshabalala- Msimang, screamed at hospital staff and drank huge amounts of booze while in hospital for a shoulder operation.

The minister, the custodian of our nationâ??s health, has denied none of these allegations. This newspaper also published allegations that Tshabalala- Msimang was a drunk and a thief. This story has not been refuted by the minister nor any other government official.

A Jaiku channel has been set up with updates on this developing story. You can read more about it here.

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I am not that much of a politico 😉 but I realize the important link between democracy and free press. Being from Kenya where there’s always a tussle between the govt and the press, I can totally empathize with our fellow Africans in SA, and truly hope this gets sorted without members of the press being thrown in jail. Plus, bloggers are an opinionated bunch just like journalists, if they arrest a journalist one day, what’s to prevent govt’s from arresting bloggers?

On a lighter note: Here is a clip from the segment ‘Bulls Eye’ on NTV (Nation TV) Kenya. Elections in Kenya can be hilarious, and weird. ‘The pentagon?!’, day of thunder? and I dont even want to relive the whole Raila driving to parliament in a hummer. Sigh*

Solar traffic lights in Capetown + Other news bits

Via Carbon Copy
Capetown is using solar powered traffic lights to buttress it from expected power cuts. As Rory points out, its a great start to making solar power more commonplace. I would love to see pictures of the traffic lights…this is a blatant hint to our South African friends at WebAddicts. Implementation of solar tech such as this makes so much sense, here’s hoping more countries see the example and follow suit. Just imagine a whole street in (_______insert African country of your choice) with solar powered streetlights. Warms your heart yeah?

In case you have not heard, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala has been appointed as managing director of the world bank! For brevity’s sake, i will just say that her appointment is laudable, in part because it signals a new direction for the world bank and how it views developing countries. Please watch the talk she gave at TED Global in Arusha to see how she tied together the issues of aid, trade and African self-determinism. I hope she will be given a chance to reshape the terms of world bank’s relationship to the developing world in a way that is beneficial to Africa, and continues to shape Africa’s next chapter “A healthy, smiling, beautiful Africa”.

Speaking of the world bank and its policies in Africa, according to the Guardian, the world bank is accused of razing congo forests, thereby endangering the pygmies. I feel a bit bad using the word pygmy, because they have names that I would much rather use such as ‘The Lega’. Several years ago i went to the Nelson Atkins museum in Kansas city for an exhibition named ‘The Art of the Lega’. It was an eye opener for me because the explanations for the pieces gave me a glimpse into their society. One of the tenets i remember was the idea of peace as a fabric of society; the Lega people have a pacifist culture which was expressed in the way they chose to fashion tools – with smooth edges, eschewing sharp points. Since that exhibition and when reading stories about the Congo war and its adverse effects on the people there, I wonder if we need to rethink how we address a community that we know little about other than their stature. Stepping back to the story about the world bank making recommendations to the DRC govt about industrial logging being beneficial to the DRC, did anyone listen to the local community about how best the forest can be used to truly benefit people?

For more on Art of the Lega, the companion book to the exhibition is available on Amazon.

Lighting Africa Grant Competition Launches today

lighting Africa image

Lighting Africa (LA) is a joint World Bank (IBRD) and International Finance Corporation (IFC) initiative aimed at developing the market for off-grid lighting in Africa and providing poor households and small businesses with access to modern, clean and affordable lighting products.

The grant competition is open to a variety of organizations, from entrepreneurs, LED suppliers and NGO’s. Click here for more information about the grant competition and here for the forum where you can ask questions about the grants process; It is also a B2B portal of sorts.

Via Core 77

Wind Energy Resources & RE News Tidbits

Via Leonardo Energy,
The Wind Turbine buyers guide [PDF]: “The article discusses small wind system components, wind turbine basics, and understanding the ratings. It also shows photos of the small wind turbines and lists several specifications for each.”

Via AfriWea
GVEP International receives a 2 million pound grant for a project in East Africa. GVEP’s role is, according to their site

… providing financial support, capacity building and technical assistance to energy SMEs in developing countries. Using funding from the Russian Government, GVEP intends to set up two Regional Funds in West and East Africa to build local energy supply chains and grow economic development from the bottom up.

The list of other organizations in Africa receiving grants from Europe aid can be found here. [PDF]. Some of the organizations in Kenya on the list include:
Kenya Arid Land Development Focus – Renewable energy in Wajir
Kenya Tana and Athi rivers Development Authority – Community based mini hydropower development in upper tana river basin
Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) – Up scaling the smaller biogas Plants

Via BBC
“The Greek Orthodox Church in Cyprus has announced plans to invest $234m (£115m) in solar energy. Archbishop Chrysostomos II said the church would build a factory that would make photo-voltaic panels to capture the sun’s energy.” – Now that is a faith based initiative i could get behind.

Fun from The Daily show with Jon Stewart: An awesome lampoon of the Cape Wind project in Nantucket. Big wigs don’t want it because it will presumably ruin their long range view from their mansions.