Tag Archives: internet

O3b Satellite Internet (Finally) Launches

5 years ago I wrote about the news that Google had invested, along with others, in this new internet connectivity via medium-orbit satellites for the parts of the world that were hard to reach with terrestrial cable or even mobile phone towers, called O3b Networks.

Last week O3b finally launched.

A Russian Soyuz-STB rocket launched from Kourou in French Guiana today, 25th June 2013 at 19:27 UTC.

The rocket carried the first four satellites of the O3b Constellation. O3b will provide internet access for hard to reach parts of the world. 8 more O3b satellites will launch in a further two launches later this year and then in 2014.

Who are the first users?
First is Telecom Cook Islands, who will receive the first commercial signals across the network this summer and then Maju Nusa, soon to roll out a state of the art 3G backhaul network in Malaysia built on O3b’s low latency capacity.

The plans originally were to have these over Africa as well, let’s see if that happens.

Building the BRCK: A backup generator for the internet

Why do we rely on equipment made for the Berlin, Orlando and Tokyo when the conditions we have in Nairobi, Lagos or New Delhi are completely different?

The BRCK is Africa's answer to internet connectivity

Today we’re announcing the BRCK: The easiest, most reliable way to connect to the internet, anywhere in the world, even when you don’t have electricity.

We have a BRCK Kickstarter going, where we’re asking for your on taking it from prototype to production.

The BRCK is a simple, and it came from us asking:

“How would we design a redundant internet device for Africa?”

It would need to do the following:

  • A router for 20 people
  • With 8+ hours of battery for when the power goes out
  • That fails over to 3g when the Internet goes out
  • That travels, so you become a mobile hotspot
  • With cloud-based backend that supports every country
  • On device with both a software and hardware API

As a web company, being connected to the internet when you need it is a big deal, small outages cause lag that ripple through the organization. Even in Nairobi with it’s 4 undersea cables and growing tech scene, we still have power and connectivity problems. Could we do something to scratch this itch of ours that would help others too?

Since we travel a lot, we decided that it needed to work in every country. The BRCK had to work when the power was off for a full day (8 hours), had to fail over to 3g internet when the ethernet didn’t work, it also had to work in any country we were in, by just changing the SIM card. At the same time we wanted it to be accessible for both software and hardware extensions by others.

Having a BRCK cloud means that you can login to your device from anywhere in the world, load apps and services on to it, such as a VPN, Dropbox or other services and also control sensors and other devices connected to the hardware. We think that the BRCK model of both a software and hardware API represents the glue that will make the internet of things work.

As Ushahidi we’ve always used simple technology to create tools and platforms that work for us in Africa, and which is also useful globally. This holds true for the BRCK too. We’re redesigning technology that’s been around for years, but making it work for our needs in Kenya.

BRCK-header

Some History

A year ago I jumped on a plane from South Africa back to Kenya without my book and my phone battery almost dead. Funny enough, these happenstances which leave me bored and with nothing to do but think have lead to my most interesting ideas (I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere…). I subsequently broke out my notebook and started sketching out what I thought would be a fun hardware side-project for Ushahidi’s core team that would give us something to work on, when we were too fatigued with the normal coding/work.

We live in possibly the most interesting time for technology in history, where we’ve created this incredible thing called the internet, connecting us globally while at the same time getting to the point where the people who can code software can also “do” hardware. An era where analog and digital are democratized and the making of both attainable by anyone with a computer.

Making things is hard. It’s harder in Africa. I can’t overnight an order of processors, boards or 3d printing filament here. There aren’t an over abundance of local fabrication facilities or tools, and the milling machine you find might be in disrepair and take you two days to calibrate. We’ve got our work cut out to create the right spaces for prototyping and small-scale fabrication on the continent.

We actually started with Jon Shuler doing a lot of the early builds being done by him at his home in California. I’d bring these builds back to Brian Muita and team in Kenya where he was hacking on the firmware to make the system work. All the while hoping that air travel security would let me through with what to all appearances looked like a remote detonation device…

The BRCK being built at the University of Nairobi FabLab

By prototype version 5 we were in Nairobi with a bunch of plastic, using the University of Nairobi’s FabLab to mill the body. There was a fair bit of repair and adjustment needed on the machines to make it work. Like most things in Africa, you either fix what you have or you don’t do it, because there isn’t another option. After a couple days we got it within close enough allowances that we could do it. It still wasn’t pretty, but we knew it would work by then.

That was all just the hardware bit. Concurrently we wireframed the software side, ensuring that this device was much more useful than just a MiFi on steroids. The BRCK Cloud falls directly in Ushahidi’s software development wheelhouse, so we set about creating a simple responsive interface that would work on both phones and big screens.

BRCK setup - mobile web

The software side does three things:

  • A simple setup interface with only 3 form fields. Router setup is scary and hard, so we’re trying to take the pain out of it.
  • A dashboard, so you can see if your BRCK is running on backup or primary power, how fast your current internet connection is, your provider, and how all of these have done over the last hour, day, week and month.
  • A marketplace for free apps and services, as well as the place for others to offer up their own creations to the rest of the BRCK users around the world.

While having a device that was remotely programmable and that could run its own apps and service is important, we realized this was only half of the equation. We would need to create a similar interface for hardware creators and users. This means we needed the device to have hardware ports for everything to connect to, from temperature sensors to Raspberry Pi’s (as an aside, I want to get a Raspberry Pi hooked into the BRCK, thereby making a small, working server). We also decided to put special hex nuts at the top that would allow you to pop the top and get into the guts easily to do your own re-jigging.

The plan for the future is that you’ll be able to stack components under the BRCK like Legos, so that if you need an additional battery pack, a temperature sensor, solar charger, or other product you could do so with ease.

For a full rundown of the all that the BRCK can do, check out the Kickstarter. If you want to get into the real details, see the spec sheet.

Final Thoughts

This week I’m in Berlin to speak at re:publica – and as this post goes live I’m finalizing my talk. I find myself driven to tell the story of Africa’s great potential and growth, tempered by my experience building companies, communities and products here. I see the other entrepreneurs, hungry to create new products and driven by the same powers that are seen in their European and American counterparts. Here, it’s a harder road to hoe in many ways, it takes more grit, more determination and more belief in a future that is not yet realized to do it.

I look at the success we’ve had as Ushahidi and what this new hardware product means to us, and I’m humbled that we have the luxury to self-fund the R&D to get it to this stage, while so many my peers are struggling to take great concepts to even the prototype stage. The opportunities afforded us by our international awareness, the advantage of attracting and hand-picking the top talent that come through the iHub, the ability to have funds that we can risk on a half-baked original idea, a Board who believes in us and trusts our decisions – these are what I’m grateful for.

For this same reason, we’re committed to making a difference for our friends and peers in Nairobi. We’re going to build a makerspace through the iHub that allows others to start from a better position. A place that will give hardware hackers and entrepreneurs a chance to get trained on tools and machines, meet their peers and take risks on their own crazy half-baked hardware ideas. We’re calling this Gearbox.

Gearbox - an iHub Nairobi initiative for makers

We’re looking for corporate, academic and other partners right now to make it a reality. I’ll write about it more at another time (as this post is already too long). However, if you’re interested in being a part of this initiative, do let me know.

How Safaricom Steals Your Internet Bundle

99% of Kenya’s 6.5m internet users access it via mobile, of which Safaricom owns 77% marketshare.

In Kenya, when you buy a 1.5Gb internet bundle from Safaricom you pay 1000ksh (~$12). You’ve paid for the data, and there is no additional cost to Safaricom if you were to use that data today or a year from now. The whole concept of data bundle expiry is ridiculous, as noted by Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore when he visited the iHub:

“When you go into a petrol station and fill up your car, does the owner of the petrol station tell you to bring it back on Wednesday to take back what’s left in the vehicle? Of course not. So I ask, why the hell are we doing that?”

Bob goes on to say that he isn’t going to be an apologist for this practice, that there is a problem with leaving the data there ad infinitum. That 60 days is probably too short and that Safaricom does need to change how they handle this.

  • Until recently they just held your data hostage. If your data expired, you could recharge with just a few shillings of data, this would re-trigger your “old” data that was past the expiration, and have that available to you again.
  • Today, it is “data gone, money stolen” after expiration. They cut you off if you haven’t used all of your internet bundle in the nominal 7-90 days, no matter how much is remaining.

I brought this up with Bob Collymore, and his chief executives when they visited the iHub earlier this year (see video), at which point he admitted that it was indeed a dubious practice that would be changed to something much more open to users. You’ll see what Bob says at the 1:17 mark in the video below.

Here Bob is on video speaking to this point (I’ve saved the link to go to the right point in the video):

The other day I caught a Tweet from Sunny Bindra about some surprising changes:

Safaricom is actually very responsive on Twitter, probably the best big company on social media in the Kenya. They followed up with Sunny with this:

So, Safaricom didn’t broadcast this significant change in the way data bundles are handled broadly. Apparently, “publicized on our website” means quietly posting a PDF somewhere in the morass that is their website to notify the data using public of the changes.

If you follow the links to the PDF, you’ll find the following:

What is the Validity period?
This is the time frame that you have to use the bundles, when this period elapses it means that any remaining bundles will have expired and will not be available for use.

(Note: there is conflicting information on how long bundles will last, you can only find out by topping up a bundle. I did this for 1.5Gb and found that it’ll last 80 days, not the 30 that they say in the PDF. I don’t know if it’s more/less time for other bundle amounts.)

It’s in Safaricom’s best interest for you to keep buying more data, over and over, even if you haven’t used it. It costs them nothing to let you use it over a longer period of time, or to keep recharging it.

In Conclusion

I’m disappointed with Safaricom, especially after Bob Collymore came to the iHub and said he was going to fix this, not break it further.

This is an outright fleecing that the Safaricom team should be questioned on. In a country where they are the monopoly player on the primary source for people to access the internet, this makes them appear like a bad actor.

Basically, we’ve gone from a bad system that was promised to be made better, but which had a corrective option, to a worse system that has no option.

Other Safaricom Data Miscellany

While I’m at it, let’s go ahead and talk about a few other ways that the data service that Safaricom raises the bar for bonehead usability: buying data bundles themselves.

Case 1:
You used to be able to send airtime to a SIM card on your Safaricom modem. Then, using the inbuilt Safaricom Broadband app, send an SMS to 450 with the amount of the bundle that you wanted to buy, now 450 only seems to work for checking your balance.

With the new service updated in the aforementioned PDF you can now only use the USSD code to update it.

Solution now?
Take the SIM card out of your modem, load it in your phone and do the USSD code. Once confirmation is received, switch that SIM card back to the modem.

Yes, that’s correct. Instead of being using the software that comes native with your modem, you now have to use a phone to update your bundles. Why would you change your system to not work with everything that people use? I’m quite curious actually. I can’t understand this decision from a either the business or the product side at all.

Case 2:
Safaricom wanted to make it easier for people with modems, iPads, Android tablets and smartphones to be able to update their bundle (good idea). They created http://portal.safaricom.com/bundles for this purpose. Let’s say you’re out of data, you have no credit on your phone. How do you get to this page?

Solution?
There are none. You’re stuck because this page isn’t zero-rated. This is mind-boggling in it’s oversight. I have no data, therefore I cannot go to your page to load more data. Seriously… who is the genius that thought this up? Or, probably more accurately, what form of bureaucracy is in place that allows this mediocrity to persist?

Further, if you’re Safaricom who controls 77% of the consumer internet access in Kenya, why wouldn’t you zero-rate your whole Safaricom.com domain and make it free for anyone to surf, even if they don’t have a single shilling on their phone?

[As a resource, here is the latest quarterly Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) PDF report on the tech scene in Kenya.]

Infographic: Mobile and Internet in Tanzania

The iHub Research team has worked up an infographic on Tanzania to match their past ones on Kenya and Uganda. We’re looking at 50% mobile phone penetration in Tanzania, with about 22 million connected, where Vodacom has the largest market share at 42%.

The crazy stat is online: In Tanzania, only 2.5% of the population has access to the internet, 80% of those on mobile phones.

Hats off to Patrick Munyi (@ptrckmunyi) for the great design!

The Google Global Cache hits Kenya

In January I wrote about the way the Google Global Cache is affecting Uganda – how local web caching is completely changing the internet user experience for that country. We’ve known for a couple weeks that this was underway in Kenya too. Well, here are some numbers on that.

Here’s the aggregate month:

We’re seeing the overall traffic increase 300% from around 100Mbs to around 400Mbs. Those are some pretty impressive numbers, no matter how you look at them. Why is KIXP/TESPOK not making some noise about this significant achievement?

How does it look across the ISPs that are using it?

KDN hosts the cache:

Wananchi:

Internet Solutions:

Africa Online:

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.

Kenya’s Mobile & Internet, by the Numbers (Q4 2010)

If you’ve been wondering what the numbers look like for Kenya’s mobile and ISP space, look no further than the latest CCK Report (Communications Commission of Kenya). It’s one of the best documents that I’ve seen, compiling information that you just can’t seem to find anywhere else.

Highlights of Q4 2010:

  • There are 22 million mobile subscribers in Kenya
  • 9.5% mobile subscriptions growth, which is increasing over the previous quarters
  • 6.63 billion minutes of local calls were made on the mobile networks
  • 740 million text messages were sent
  • Prepaid accounts for 99% of the total mobile subscriptions
  • The number of internet users was estimated at 8.69 million
  • The number of internet/data subscriptions is 3.2 million
  • Broadband subscriptions increased from 18,626 subscribers in the previous quarter to 84,726

Price Wars

Everyone recognizes the impact on SMS and voice, due to the price wars brought on by Airtel last year. The average, people are paying 2.65 Ksh per minute for voice representing 33.4%
reduction on pre-paid tariffs. It comes as no surprise that there was a 68.4% increase in traffic during this period, nearly triple the norm.

There’s nothing like a chart to bring this point home:

Interestingly, a decline in total number of text messages sent (4% less) was recorded. It’s an indicator that given the choice of lower cost voice, people would rather use that, and they do.

Safaricom lost 4.8% market share, from 80.1% to 75.9% (still massive). Surprisingly, it wasn’t Airtel who benefitied, as Orange made up for most of that with a 4.4% increase of their own. Airtel did lead the market by recording 1,143,353 new subscriptions, about 3x their closest competitor.

Internet

A whopping 99% of the internet traffic in Kenya is done via mobile operators, meaning 3G, Edge or GPRS. It’s to Safaricom’s credit that they moved on this early, not dithering around on data as their competition did, effectively taking the whole market.

My theory is that there are only two major players in the ISP space in Kenya. The first is Safaricom, supported by this report, who will own most of the country due to having an island strategy (mobile towers). This allows them to own all the rural areas and anyone who needs decent speeds and has to be mobile.

The other is the fiber bandwidth provider (ISP) who figures out and cracks the consumer market. The closest to doing this is Zuku (Wananchi) who started rolling out 8Mb/s high-speed fiber-to-the-home internet connections in Q4 2010 at only 3,499 Ksh ($45). These numbers aren’t reflected yet. My guess is that we’ll see Zuku tying up all the home internet connections in the major urban areas.

Estimates for those with internet access in Kenya is closing in on 9 million users, and at over 22% of the population, we can say we’re getting a lot closer to the critical mass needed for real web businesses and services to thrive.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the numbers on both mobile and internet are trending up, and at a very favorable rate. The indicators here prove that you should be paying a lot of attention to mobiles and data connectivity in Kenya.

If you’re a business, what’s your mobile plan? How are you providing and extending your services over the internet (and no, a website is not enough)?

If you’re an entrepreneur, how are you going to use this information to decide what to build? Are you paying attention to the wananchi, building apps for the upper class?

PDF of Report: CCK Report download – Kenya Q4 2010

IxDA and Designers as Explorers

I get culture shock every once in a while, and it’s not the normal type where you’re coming to a new country and everything is completely different than your own country. This is more subtle, I’m at a conference with a lot of people who look and sound like me, but when you actually listen to their conversation you realize that they define themselves and the world in a way just slightly different than you do. That’s what happened to me over the last 3 days here in Boulder, Colorado at the IxDA 2011 – the big Interaction Design Association annual conference. I’m surrounded by 600+ designers, people who think deeply about why you and I do things, and ways to make us do it better, differently or for more money.

Sketch by @AlainaRachelle

Africa’s Digital Design Constraints

I was fortunate enough to meet Jon Kolko, one of the organizers, at PopTech a couple years ago, leading to this invite. My role was to talk as a practitioner, and I covered everything from AfriGadget to Maker Faire Africa and Ushahidi. I then delved into the constraints around design and building in the African tech space, by breaking down the three main areas that I see:

  • Bandwidth
  • Mobiles
  • Culture

Specifically, I covered how bandwidth has made it difficult for people to create new sites and services, but more importantly, how the uptake of those is limited by consumer use of the internet due to costs and speeds. This is changing though, as tracked and evidenced by the lowering data costs and increased bandwidth being piped into the continent each year.

I also covered the swiftly blurring lines between Mobile and web. How due to the fact that mobiles are the primary device for Africans and usually the first device that people have a meaningful interaction with the internet on, is creating a different type of user. How the entrepreneurs in Africa’s web space are thinking of it from a mobile context and how they build services to address their audience. Here I got into the argument of diffusion of internet penetration via the big international players like Facebook and Google through mobiles, which then open up infrastructure and cultural use making it more accessible to local startups.

Finally, I talked about culture. How this culture of mobile first plays out. Where the phone number trumps the email address on user signup, and where transactions happen due to that norm. It’s here that I also got to bring up one of my favorite people, Jepchumba, the creator of African Digital Art. She is creating a community, and a movement, to get African designers talking to each other and showcasing their work to the world – breaking down the stereotypes and building up new personalities across the continent.

Jepchumba helped me come up with some of the content behind my talk due to running her African web design survey last week (it’s still open). There’s a lot of information in that survey, much of which is still being gathered. As an example though, is this chart showing the percentage of African web designers who are self-taught as opposed to having a formal education. I wonder if this is normal globally?

Designers as Explorers

Getting back to my starting point. Sometimes this culture shock leads to great conversations, and it allows me to see the world that I live and work in a slightly different way.

Erin Moore is a designer and a storyteller, usually through video and blogging (see her newest project on Kickstarter). She introduced me to this terminology of “designers as explorers” – something that might be very apparent to the IxD field, but foreign to me. It’s a phrase that fits. Where we see designers as a new generation of what we thought of as National Geographic explorers a century ago. They’re best embodied by the Jan Chipchases of the world, who spend a great deal of time watching, listening and understanding how design interactions work, and then translating those discoveries to the rest of the world.

It fits because I have a hard time with a lot of the well-intentioned design community thinking that they can parachute into places like Africa, usually with a solution already in mind, and change the world. There is a place for designers in Africa, but the greatest value lies in recognizing the expertise at the local level, the inventiveness and ingenuity already there, and rubbing shoulders with them in a way that both gain value and maybe even build something new.

Ana Domb is another of the unique people that I met here at IxDA, she’s studied at MIT and has a good steeping in both digital technology, mixed with a focus on media and understanding fans (the people kind). It was this background that took her to Brazil (she’s Chilean) to study Technobregas – a crazy hodgepodge of fans, artists, sponsors and DJs all banding together to create their own music reality, outside of the traditional music industry’s grasp. It takes someone with a distinct design focus and understanding of how social interactions happen to be able to translate that to someone like me (paper here).

We need to see more of this. Where American designers do parachute in, but not as problem solvers, instead as explorers. Where their expertise rubs off on those they meet, and those they meet rub off on them. Both benefit. Equally, we need to see more African designers going abroad and using their expertise in shaping the way the Western world uses technology and understands community. Design interactions go both ways.

Pay Attention to the Mobile Web

In 2008 we saw the scales begin to tip with imports of data enabled phones being larger than that of non-data enabled phones.
In 2009 we saw the undersea cables hit East and Southern Africa in a big way.
In 2010 we saw the mobile operators get serious about data availability and cost packaging for everyday Africans.

2011 is upon us, and with it brings a new type of data-enabled mobile user in Africa. It also brings the mobile web to center stage.

Mobile web content has been defined as any internet-connected or browser-based access to the internet and as digital content connected to a database that passes through a handheld device connected to a wireless network.

Simply put, the mobile web is the same data that the web layer brings to you on a computer, just now on your phone.

The mobile phone is the most ubiquitous instrument there is in the market. Usage is no longer limited to sending and receiving calls and texts, especially with the increase of data enabled phones, increased bandwidth availability and decreasing data costs. The convenience in terms of use-anywhere-anytime has made access to mobile web content easier, accelerated by dropping rates of mobile handsets and data.

What does it look like?

Here are a couple of examples:

  • Consumer content such as movie times and restaurant reviews, such as Flix and EatOut.
  • Consumer focused transaction sites and classifieds like Dealfish and Pigia.me.
  • Content, such as news, blogs and aggregators like Afrigator.
  • Business information for consumers and businesses, such as Mocality.
  • Mobile-specific communities, such as Motribe, Facebook and Twitter.
  • The ability to pay via mobile payment methods or credit cards, brought to you by mobile payment aggregators like PesaPal.
  • Advertising done by the likes of InMobi and AdMob.

You can see that it doesn’t look all that different from it’s purely web-based counterparts. It’s the same data, just more accessible on your phone.

There are strong plays to be made in all of these fields, as there are few leaders in any country, much yet regionally… yet. The reason for that is we’re just on the front end of this sea change, so even the leaders only have a very small slice of the pie.

While there will always be a place for client-focused mobile applications (Android, iPhone, Ovi, etc.), there is just too much friction there to scale. Friction for the developers who build the applications, and friction for the users who need the “right” phone to access the apps.

For more brain food on this topic, I suggest reading Fred Wilson’s post, Counternotions and alternate thoughts from Diogenex.

$100 IDEOS Android Phone Launches in Kenya

Google and Huawei have launched a very competitively priced Android smartphone in Kenya today, called the IDEOS. It is being sold for 8,000 Ksh (~$100).

It runs Android 2.2 (Froyo) and have access to the Android Market. The IDEOS is a touch-screen phone that comes with bluetooth connectivity, GPS, a 3.2-megapixel camera, up to 16GB of storage and can be transformed into a 3G Wi-Fi hotspot connecting up to eight devices.

2 out of every 3 internet users in Kenya connect through their mobile phone. This is why data is the current battleground in the mobile operator and handset space. Though there are only 6 million internet users in Kenya, the data market though the mobile is huge. Currently, there are 20 million mobile phone subscribers of a total 38 million possible.

Data enabled phones of any type cost a minimum of $40-50 in Kenya, a touchscreen smartphone coming in at $100 is going to be a big deal for a lot of people.

gKenya

Google Kenya started their gKenya conference today. They are meeting with software developers, entrepreneurs and CS students at Strathmore University over 3 days to discuss innovation and growing businesses, as well as discussing their own suite of products.

[An update, after discussions with a bunch of Google employees at the iHub yesterday. The Google team said they didn not know when the phone would be able to be bought in Kenya.]

Android and pre-paid phones

There are two very big issues that the Android team will need to take care of before we see Android being used heavily in Africa.

First, the lack of access to SIM applications is surprising. These are the apps like Mpesa, top-up services and such. These aren’t just “nice to have” features, these are critical and the phone will fail if it doesn’t have them enabled. Your most basic phones can do this, but smartphones running Android cannot? (Note: unless you root your phone)

Second, there are a lot of background services running on an Android phone that use data. That’s fine for people living in an all-you-can-eat world of bandwidth, but here where we have to pay by the megabyte, it doesn’t work. I remember one day when my phone used up 1000 Ksh of credit ($12), that’s unacceptable and will drive users away very quickly.

Africa: The 2nd Safest Continent to Surf the Web

Here’s an interesting study by AVG on internet security, asking “Where in the World are you most likely to be hit by a malicious computer attack or virus?”.

Apparently, and surprisingly to me, the answer is “not Africa” or South America.

“During the last week of July, AVG researchers compiled a list of virus and malware attacks by country picked up by AVG security software. This means we have compiled data from over 127 million computers in 144 countries to determine the incidence rates of virus attacks by country.”

Dirk Singer, of AVG sent over the list of African countries, here they are country-by-country. As you can see, sub-saharan Africa is compatively ‘safe’ compared to other areas of the World. Your chances of being attacked while surfing the web in each country are:

North Africa

  • Egypt 1 in 62.4
  • Algeria 1 in 86.9
  • Libya 1 in 87.7
  • Mauritania 1 in 92.4
  • Tunisia 1 in 110.7
  • Morocco 1 in 112.1

Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Mali 1 in 49.9
  • Sudan 1 in 53.9
  • Nigeria 1 in 67.5
  • Benin 1 in 76.6
  • Ghana 1 in 99.4
  • Ivory Coast 1 in 101.5
  • Gabon 1 in 113.1
  • Angola 1 in 129.7
  • Botswana 1 in 134.4
  • Ethiopia 1 in 135.8
  • Senegal 1 in 140.6
  • Uganda 1 in 153.6
  • Liberia 1 in 153.8
  • Burkina Faso 1 in 163.4
  • South Africa 1 in 172.3
  • Tanzania 1 in 180.6
  • Kenya 1 in 216.1
  • Zambia 1 in 262.2
  • Mozambique 1 in 263.8
  • Zambia 1 in 262.2
  • Namibia 1 in 353.1
  • Togo 1 in 359.4
  • Niger 1 in 442.0
  • Sierra Leone 1 in 696.0

Keep in mind, this was over one week and it also doesn’t point directly towards where the attacks are originating from. Interesting data though, and not what I would have expected to see.

Mocality: Mobile Business Listings for Africa

It’s not often that you hear of a tech startup from South Africa who chooses to build and deploy their product to Kenya first. In fact, I’ve never heard of such a thing. However, that is just what is happening with Mocality, a mobile and web-based business listings and directory application built for Africa.

Mocality’s job: create a digital platform that makes it easy for business owners to promote and expand their businesses in Africa.

“As a business owner, you get free SMS, a contact list, a free mobile website and a free mobile business card.”

Mocality represents this change in the paradigm that we’ve seen coming on for years in Africa. An application built agnostic to the client platform (mobile phone or PC), where data is fed into whatever you use in a meaningful way. Where the mobile usage is just as rich as the PC use.

In fact, they’ve studied usage of mobile phones on their system and have seen the usage of smartphones to be so negligible as to not matter. As CEO Stefan Magdalinski says, “This is the Mocality reality: RIM, Android, Apple are 2% of usage.”

About the Team

Successful startups generally have great leaders, Mocality has that. Stefan Magdalinski (@smagdali) is a seasoned web veteran and entrepreneur, co-founder of Moo.com and an early entrant into the programming space in England in the mid-90′s, and just recently relocating to South Africa for Mocality. They have plenty of funding, from MIH, a subsidiary of Naspers Group (who has been eying Kenya with recent forays such as Kalahari and Haiya).

I’ve met with Stefan in Kenya and South Africa, and I’ve also had the chance to meet some of the members of his team here in Nairobi. The impression that I’m left with is that this is a serious startup, with plenty of funding and a great vision and a strategy put in place to pull it off.

How it Works

Mocality is built for Kenyan businesses that don’t have enough money (or value to gain) to advertise in a print directory.

Again, a paradigm shift. They’re saying that they don’t care about the big end of the power law of distribution (the big companies), only the longtail (small, marginalized businesses). This is apparent in the images below of their typical user:

  • SMS, WAP & Web tools (now J2Me, iPhone)
  • Businesses can self list
  • Geo-coding All business locations
  • Map view of business
  • Business toolkit:
    1. Add customers & suppliers
    2. Send bulk messages (400 free SMS monthly) (but with anti-spam controls)
    3. Send mobile business card
    4. Add details (e.g. Menus, Special Offers)
  • Website, google optimised (white hat only)

Important to business owners in this segment is that the platform is free. Services will be added to the platform over time that business owners can pay for, but currently the only cost to them is data or SMS usage on their own mobile phone to access Mocality.

Scaling using the Crowd

Initially, the Mocality team walked all over Nairobi getting businesses to put their listings on the platform. They were successful, and in about 6 months of hard work were able to get approximately 11,000 businesses listed. That’s good, but barely puts a dent in the number of companies operating in this city.

The team then launched a crowdsourcing option, where they experimented with allowing anyone in Nairobi to add their own (and other’s) businesses to Mocality, and they got paid a bounty to do so. Within the last 6 weeks they have as many listings entered as the previous 6 months. If you live in Nairobi and want to become an agent, you need a WAP-enabled cameraphone and only need to visit http://www.mocality.com/money.

That’s impressive, but the impact is even more apparent when you look at the visualization:

If you have a business in Nairobi, you can get your listing onto it by visiting www.mocality.com email to info@mocality.co.ke or SMS callme to 2202 from within Kenya.

The “Nokia: Innovating Africa” presentation

A special thanks to all of the commentors from the last couple days who gave of their opinions to help Nokia think differently about innovating in Africa. It was these comments that I channeled, where I served as a messenger to tell the Nokia executives who flew in from all over the continent and Europe for this meeting in Nairobi.

Nokia: Innovating in Africa talk

Points made in the talk

[Note: most of these points came directly from the readers on my last post.]

First, stop treating the Middle East and Africa as a single region. If you’re serious about Africa, treat it as its own region.

Second, stop colluding with the operators and start colluding with your customers.

The mobile space is more nuanced now, it’s difficult to create a handset that will change your fate, instead it’s a mixture of software, apps, web platforms and data costs (as well as handsets) that decide your future.

Engage developers, third party programmers and businesses is where innovation comes from, not a large, slow company.

Standardize your UI and OS, strengthen your APIs. Get out of the way and let software developers innovate on a platform.

Make it easy for developers to make money, even in Africa. Figure out a way that people get paid and can bill via your server-side offerings like Ovi.

Take some of the big money that’s being thrown at high-profile “global social change competitions”, which generally attract Western organizations, and do more smaller-scale work at the grassroots level.

A large percentage of users can’t afford the data plan to get on your own websites and the Ovi store. Zero rate them. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be eating Facebook’s, Twitter’s and Google’s lunch in this, as Nokia has deeper penetration with mobile operators than almost anyone else on the continent.

Consider a specialized site for Africa, loading fast on low bandwidth.

You were too slow on the dual SIM card movement, that if anything showed you had lost your innovative practices in the emerging markets like Africa.

Today it’s driving the cheapest candybar phone to the lowest possible price. Good, keep that up. While you’re doing so, make the battery last longer and keep thinking of great ways to recharge it (solar or bicycle dyno).

But, look ahead are realize that even here in Africa, people want Smartphones with real web browsers, social networking and entertainment apps. Do it for under $100.

You don’t want to hear it, but I’ll say it anyway. Software isn’t your strong point, hardware is. Consider embracing Android.

How about a multi-touch dual-SIM Android smartphone for under $100… can you do it?

SD cards = digital storage. In fact, provide these with content already on them, including books, encyclopedias, etc.

Cloud-based services, including heavy application processes, would mean deeper penetration into phones with less RAM, content backup, and a content creation and sharing link that is still untapped.

Be the first to implement 802.21 in your handsets, allowing a seamless handover from WiFi to GSM/GPRS. Lead the charge to fully IP-enabled phones.

Finally, nothing will get better by holding to the status quo and slipping into mediocrity. Now is the time for daring exploits, especially in the places with the most growth potential and where your competition is either light or weak.

Africa is ripe for experimental phones and financing models, what is new coming out of Africa first?

Facebook Zero: A Paradigm Shift

Just a week ago I was in Cape Town talking about how entrepreneurs in Africa are looking at the prepaid mobile phone market and are trying to solve for the cost structures for data provided by the mobile carriers. Who knew that internet giant Facebook would beat them to it?

Facebook ZeroThis week Facebook launched 0.facebook.com, where they worked out deals with 50 mobile operators in 45 countries to either zero-rate data costs coming to that URL, or paying that data cost themselves. This means that anyone, even those with no airtime on their mobile phone, can still take part in Facebook.

“Thanks to the help of mobile operators we collaborated with, people can access 0.facebook.com without any data charges. Using 0.facebook.com is completely free. People will only pay for data charges when they view photos or when they leave 0.facebook.com to browse other mobile sites. When they click to view a photo or browse another mobile site a notification page will appear to confirm that they will be charged if they want to leave 0.facebook.com”

Interestingly enough, 5 of the 6 largest Facebook using countries in Africa do not have access to this service yet: Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and Kenya.

Top Facebook Countries in Africa

Facebook Zero is launching in these countries

Why this matters

What has happened is that Facebook, even with all of their problems and questionable ethical moves on privacy issues, still have a great strategist with a global perspective in their midst. What they have realized is that the only way to increase penetration in the developing world is to cover the data costs for their users (or, if lucky, snooker a mobile operator into not charging them for it).

I pay for someone to visit this blog. I pay my web hosting fees and that means that you can visit it for free. Almost. Unless you’re on a free WiFi service you still have to pay your ISP to connect to the internet. This is akin to me paying off your ISP for when you visit my website.

It’s a big deal, and I think we’ll see a lot more of this happening. It raises the bar for everyone else. If you want to play in this league, you now need to pay off the mobile operator for the traffic that goes your way. Meanwhile the mobile operators laugh all the way to the bank – it’s a huge win for them, and a big score for mobile web consumers in the developing world.

ICANN Comes to Nairobi

ICANN is the body that governs the assignment of domain names and IP addresses worldwide. It’s supposedly a non-profit, but their salaries might indicate otherwise. They decide if there’s going to be a new top level domain (TLD), and are behind the present craziness of letting anyone just choose their own TLD. They split the world up into 5 zones, and each year they go to one of these zones for their annual meeting. This time it’s here in Nairobi.

You can see the full schedule of this week’s events here.

The meetings are to be held at the Kenya International Conference Centre (KICC), who as organizers of the space have already fumbled the ball. They’ve double booked KICC on Mon/Tue of this week with the 6 heads of state (and all their security) of IGAD; Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. ICANN is none to happy about this, as stated on their blog:

“With that many national leaders and scores of security personnel arriving at our meeting venue at one time, we expect it to cause severe inconveniences and at times possibly major disruptions for our community members as they attempt to enter and move around the KICC.”

Major items on the agenda:

Here’s a video from Gray Chynoweth where he outlines the topics for this ICANN #37 event including security and remote access, new TLD’s, the .xxx gTLD, DNSSEC rollout, root scaling, WHOIS study and more.

  • New TLDs— a discussion of what the “EOI” (expressions of interest) process will look like for pre-registering new gTLDs. ICANN provides more information on this here.
  • IDN ccTLDs – a status update on which countries that have applied using the “fast track” and where they are.
  • The .xxx extension- will it proceed and when.