Monday, September 19, 2011

WiFi for Trading Centers in Developing Countries

Consider This:

  • 2G GSM towers are widely deployed worldwide
  • Extremely inexpensive 1000mW point-to-point WiFi gear can deliver excellent throughput over long distances to connect towers in ring topologies
  • High performance mesh WiFi routers that can cover the most important areas of a trading village in developing countries can be as low as $2000 to $3000 (based on prices in America). 
  • Affordable Android-based WiFi tablets (under $199) and dual-SIM Android phones (under $99) with economies of scale in the BILLIONS made in China will hit the market within a year
  • Substantial numbers of refurbished laptops donated from America and Europe are just waiting for wireless service
  • Operators can bring cached "offline" content to the network for a true high speed experience 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ultra Low Cost WiFi with Local "Offline" Intranet Content & Communications

Did you know that bandwidth in Africa can cost up to 100 times what it costs in the U.S. and even if you can afford it the speeds are typically quite slow?

Do you remember the days of dial-up in the US? Slow internet is super frustrating.

If internet is not available, unreliable, or too expensive you need local "offline" content; bring the servers local to the network.  Take the best parts of the internet and the most important features and make them local to the network.  Instead of users trying to hit servers in the US, bring copies of the servers to Africa.  This way it will be fast and the users will have a good experience.

Think of it like a big enterprise "intranet" for a village, city, region or even a country.  With WiFi, the air interface can handle the speeds; the bottleneck is the "backhaul" connection to the internet.  With 2G/3G cellular, the air interface can be a major limitation; but not with WiFi.  The 4G air interface is better but too expensive for wide deployment in Africa and the developing world.

Inexpensive Android smartphones and tablets with WiFi made for the Indian market will soon be arriving in Africa.  Lenovo recently announced a $199 Android tablet.  Huawei, Samsung, and Micromax all make Android based 3G phones with WiFi.

Refurbished laptops from the US or Europe are arriving in Africa by the millions.  WiFi devices are available and more will be coming very soon.  Over 80% of all smartphones made have WiFi now.  And in the US and Europe, over 50% of the people carry smartphones with WiFi.  The device upgrade cycle is typically around 18 months; how long will it be before more and more of these WiFi devices arrive in Africa?  Think about it...

Why subsidize or try to manage the supply chain of devices; don't tie up capital or credit in inventory. Let the open market supply affordable WiFi devices with the power of economies of scale in the BILLIONS. If you don't have to subsidize; don't! You will be much more profitable.

The other problem with 4G (both WiMAX and LTE) is the cost of access devices and modems. With such a new, frequency band fragmented, technology the cost of devices can be very expensive and certainly prohibitive for most in Africa. If the price of modems is high you will have a smaller addressable base for which to sell service. How many people can really afford that device if it is not subsidized? This is a tough position to be in; especially if you just spent all your wad building that new, expensive 4G network.

You don't have that problem with WiFi. Granted it is more complicated to cover larger areas with WiFi than a low frequency cellular technology but it can be done. Plus, people are used to walking to access conveniences; not everywhere needs to have high speed internet/intranet. Building hotspots in the central business district "trading center", around schools or hospitals, will be sufficient in the beginning.

New to our project? Basically, we want to help increase the Internet penetration rate in Malawi and developing countries through the introduction of ultra-low-cost WiFi technology that can be used point-to-point for long distances (tested up to 36km with LOS) and meshed to create hotzones in the villages across Malawi. Most villages can be covered for less than a couple thousand USD (excluding tower space and access to high speed Internet) while cheap WiFi devices (like $199 Android tablets) will be coming soon.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Empower a Microbusiness with Solar Powered Light Bulbs

Do you believe in empowering smaller entrepreneurs around the globe? Check out this solar light bulb that could potentially make a huge impact on the 1.4 billion people around the world who don't have access to an electrical grid. This social entrepreneur believes that the charity model of aid used by nonprofit organizations doesn't work -- despite its good intentions. Instead he believes selling the solar bulbs in a capitalist free market, instead of donating them, will help more people in developing countries. Social entrepreneurship helps create more jobs and a network of dealers and distributors that can then be utilized to sell more/other products and ultimitely build a more robust economy in developing countries.

Thank you Chris Swanda for this great article.

Please post a comment with links to related articles.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Case for WiFi in Developing Markets

With advancements in WiFi technology and economies of scale in the BILLIONS, a pair of new carrier grade, high power 802.11n outdoor WiFi radios can be deployed with high gain grid antennas for line-of-sight point-to-point long distance links up to 36km with up to 100Mbps+ of real TCP/IP throughput for less than $300 USD while tiny outdoor access points with 1000mW of output power that can cover up to 100m and handle up to 54Mbps are less than $100 USD. And to expand the coverage area, a pair of meshable 5GHz nanostations with up to 10km of range and support for up to 25+Mbps of throughput performance can be purchased for $150 USD. All together, a meshed three node system to cover the market area of a trading center village would cost less than $1000 USD. Of course, shipping, duties, and taxes would affect true prices outside the United States.

That is amazing; around 300m (~1000ft or 23 acres) of WiFi coverage with backhaul and long-distance transmission for only $1000 USD. That means a telecommunications provider with fiber Ethernet ports and tower infrastructure could provide high speed internet services to the market area of trading center villages for $1000 USD per village (excluding deployment costs, shipping, and duties). Even if coverage is expanded into residential areas most towns could be covered for less than $10,000 USD.

How do these costs compare to deploying a cellular-based system? Typically between 1/10th and 1/5th from most reports.

And even better, there is no need to subsidize devices or require expensive modems; that means a larger addressable market when cheap WiFi devices hit the market soon. WiFi is now standard on smartphones; over a BILLION WiFi chips will ship in 2011.

The other thing nice about these WiFi networks are the ability to interconnect villages for peer-to-peer communications and add local area content that resides on an external hard drive connected to the headnode router via USB.

This means that if the internet is not available, goes down or is slow, local content will be fast; even supporting high quality video streaming. New content can be distributed via USB flash storage and motorbikes.

Villages can then be interconnected in ring topologies to facilitate commerce through a One Village One Product "craigslist style" online classifieds portal and peer-to-peer communications.

This is the perfect middle mile and last mile solution for providing affordable internet services in developing economies where price sensitivity is the number one requirement.

Interested in learning more? Contact us at malawiwifiproject[at]gmail [dot] com.

Like our project? Meet our partner in Malawi, Kameko Technologies

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Be sure to follow us on Facebook

We should update this blog more, and hopefully will once the project in launched.

But for now, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Achieving Sustainability Part 1

The sustainability of this project is our number one focus.  We have been thinking through how we are going to be able to sustain the network once it is built.  Join us on this journey.

Mhalaunda is a fairly small village with limited economic means.  With relatively high wholesale internet prices sustainability would be nearly impossible.

The only solution appears to be expanding the scope of the project.  There is a slightly larger town nearby called Embangweni that has more economic means.  It is only 12 km away.  Perhaps we can find a solution there. 

After some brainstorming, we think we may be able to make it work if we can get the Mission Hospital, an Internet cafe, and a handful of residential subscribers.

Chelsea tells us that the Mission Hospital in Embangweni is certainly in need of an internet upgrade. "They would greatly benefit in faster Internet."

She has set up a meeting with the hospital administrator and the IT director this Wednesday to discuss upgrading their system. We are going to write up a layman proposal to increase the number of computers with internet capabilities and deliver faster speeds. We will post it when its done. 

In parallel, Dumi has been researching the Internet Cafe business in Malawi.  Internet Cafes appear to be popular in other larger cities in Malawi.  And at 5 Kwacha per minute, we may be able to make decent money if we had five nice Ubuntu laptops.  Right now, there is no Internet Cafe in Embangweni.  If we set up an Internet Cafe, we would be the first.

Then if we can find people in Embangweni that want internet and can afford it, we can offer residential service to help subsidize costs.  Once a mesh is built out, it only costs around $200 to add a common node, so if there are paying subscribers we can always keep expanding for relatively low cost.  Chelsea and Dumi appear confident we can find subscribers.

The last part of the sustainability equation is the wholesale internet costs.  According to FabFi guidelines, we will design the network based on 100kbps per user.  Unfortunately, early research appears to suggest the costs may be a problem.  We are going to have our work cut out for us here.  We will need to be creative and do a good job negotiating.  Dumi has started the ball rolling with executives at MTL and is also in contact with other ISPs in Malawi.  In parallel, Chelsea and Gabe are exploring rent prices.  

We are making good progress and will have more to report in a couple days. 

Please subscribe to our RSS to stay up-to-date on the project.  We have a lot of work to do before August 7th and we will need your support.  If you like what we are trying to do, please Like Us on Facebook!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

We are seeking donations to kick off our project

Our Malawi WiFi Project is now kicked off.  We are a registered non-profit corporation and currently have an application in progress with the IRS for 501(c) status for tax exemption.

We are seeking to raise at minimum $5,000 USD, to cover airfare, local transportation costs, lodging, procurement of equipment locally while in Malawi and other ancillary costs involved with the project.


Friday, July 1, 2011

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube

Just getting everything started.

Twitter - @Malawi_WiFi

Facebook - Malawi WiFi

YouTube -

Stay tuned as we ramp up the project.