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.


  1. Love what you guys are doing. Keep it up!

    Matt Wiese

  2. Companies should know how to get WiFi other than they know how to get 1300 number for communication purposes.