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Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Phone and Internet Mesh for African Villages

In the words of Steve Song, Village Telco is “an easy-to-use, scalable, standards-based, wireless, local, do-it-yourself, telephone company toolkit”. He’s just put out a new video making it very clear just how useful this system is.

The team over at Blinktower has done an exceptional job of creating a short, concise and eminently understandable video of what Village Telco is.

The Village

Often, we get caught up in our high tech wizardry and get overly excited about the newest Android app or the best new web app built in African Megalopolis #5. And by “we”, I mean “I”, since I too am a tech guy who is endlessly intrigued by the latest, newest and shiniest.

What we forget is the village. “Up country”. What happens when we get comments like this last week from the new CEO of Safaricom, Bob Collymore, threatening to do away with their rural network:

We’re OK with losing market share (faced with unrealistically low rates) and focusing on Nairobi and high-income communities. The people in remote districts are receiving calls (more than making them). If rates decline, why should I continue to do that?”

Some rural communities have never had connectivity of any kind, voice or data. Others have it now, but could lose it if their revenues don’t prove to be high enough for big operators. Who is going to fill that niche?

I think the answer lies in technology like Village Telco. It’s a business, not an aid program. Where an entrepreneur can get a link to the network started (or not), and then mesh out from there to the whole community. People pay for access, and profits can be made.

For the last few years, a dedicated team of enthusiasts have been building the initial hardware and software. Both of which are open source. It’s a low-cost way to get into the telco business. Here’s to hoping that more entrepreneurs take a serious look at rural connectivity.

4 Comments

  1. So it wasn’t just me that was gobstopped by that statement by Bob Collymore. Thanks for the support for the Village Telco. I too could not leave this sort of statement unanswered and have posted a little diatribe on it.

  2. Ok, ok, I accept that I was a bit harsh and hasty with that comment but I do feel passionately about the negative consequence of the current situation. Safaricom has always focused on the ordinary wananichi and indeed have invested heavily in reaching 85% of the population thus far. We are also the only company involved in the 600 digital villages project initiated by the Government and I would like to see Safaricom take a lead in moving this to an altogether greater scale.

    I believe that as an industry we have the potential to make a significant impact to the education, health and economic empowerment of rural communities. My (unfortunate) comments were, however, intended to draw people’s attention to the likely consequence if Safaricom were to respond to the current low prices in the Market. You would have noted that instead of running head long into discounting our prices to unsustainable levels we have chosen to keep our prices and business model at levels that will help us realise the ambitions of reaching the digitally excluded.

    Many of the comments made in this original blog as well as the little diatribe are justified and the writers have every right to feel affronted if indeed it was Safaricom’s intention to abandon rural communities which I can assure you it is not. At least not whilst I am the CEO of the company. Once again I regret the unfortunate turn of phrase in my interview.

  3. This is a brilliant initiative we only hope that the local regulator, in our case CCK, will not introduce licensing hurdles that would then make the ventures unprofitable.

  4. Bob Collymore’s response reminds me of this article by Ash Ambirge via http://www.themiddlefingerproject.org :

    Humility is a pre-requisite for success–no matter what business you’re in.

    Humility is what gets you through the nervewracking process of putting yourself out there for the very first time.

    Humility is what helps you through your very first criticisms.

    Humility is what forces you to put yourself out there again, despite those criticisms.

    And humility is the tool that allows you to change things, when sometimes, those criticisms were right.

    But most importantly, humility is what makes it okay not to have all of the answers, all of the time.

    Because you won’t.

    Ultimately, humility is what will carry your business–and your soul–forward.

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