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Wi-Fi rollout integral to addressing Africa's digital divide

Wi-Fi rollout integral to addressing Africa's digital divide

Data released in June by Internet World Stats shows that 68.8% of Sub-Saharan Africa's population remain unconnected. Facebook and Eutelsat say their respective Wi-Fi hotspot solutions play a vital role in the effort to address this.

The two companies presented their latest initiatives at AfricaCom 2017 in Cape Town.

Uche Ofodile, Africa Regional Head for Facebook's Express Wi-Fi project says Wi-Fi's role is key, particularly because many regions on the continent require the most affordable last mile solutions.

"As people's appetite for data increases, we are definitely going to see a situation where customers want to have a seamless experience and I think Wi-Fi can play a role in that as well. In terms of helping people reach their potential through internet, Express Wi-Fi is an affordable alternative in the current ecosystem. We don't see ourselves as competing - we see ourselves as complementary and enhancing the ecosystem, and that is what we have seen in countries where we have rolled this out and we are very excited about the future of the product."

Ofodile says Express Wi-Fi has been rolled out in Nigeria through a partnership with Coolink, and is currently available in Tanzania through collaboration with a local partner Tizeti, as well as across a thousand hotspots in Kenya following an agreement with Kenyan ISP Surf.

Although she would not reveal the monetary value of the investment Facebook has made in all three countries, she says the company is happy with progress over the past year

"The big thing for us is around sustainability. We want to make sure that this is a programme that our partners will continue to drive forward because it needs to be a long term play. The other thing we look at is how many people that are new to the internet are coming on through Express Wi-Fi ... we also look at data usage and many of our partners have seen data usage and adoption and usage increase significantly over the last year."

Francois Boullete, Director of Marketing and Business Development at ‎Eutelsat's Konnect Africa initiative, which launched its Smart Wi-Fi hotspot solution at AfricaCom, says their offering is community-based and makes it possible to connect remote areas through satellite.

"The beauty of satellite is that it is available everywhere and you do not need a fibre link etc. You can deploy the Wi-Fi anywhere in the country. We make it really affordable for people starting at 50 cents or a dollar for small packages. We have a variety of user plans and people can pay through their local operator or use mobile payments."

Boullete adds companies or organisations or private individuals have the option to sponsor access on behalf of communities.

He adds that the hotspots also have local cloud or data storage capability that allows them to host educational content or training for free. The solution will be launched in the next few months in Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Boullete says a satellite launch planned for early next year will on-board Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire, Togo and Benin.

"We would like to connect as many people as possible. That is our aim. We want to be the best even though we may not be able to connect everyone. As our partners identify areas of need that is where we will go. Our target is for anyone who wants to have a SmartWiFi hotspot to be able to do so for their community."

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