Internet for the poor in Mawingu Project by Microsoft
On 19th Feb 2014 Business Daily published an article on Mawingu project by Microsoft that seeks to link rural Africa to the Internet. In summary, the project is using low cost Internet infrastructure that utilizes TV White Spaces (TVWS) and solar power to provide broadband Internet in areas that do not have electricity. Mawingu project is being implemented in Kenya, Egypt, Nigeria and Ivory Coast.
The project intends to generate revenue for Microsoft and the partnering company Indigo Telecom by charging low rates for Internet use. In Kenya the project is being tested in Laikipia county targeting to connect some 6,000 people to the Internet. Other goals Mawingu Project seeks to achieve include taking some one million SMEs online and help some 100,000 graduates acquire work skills with 75% of them being enabled to secure jobs by Microsoft.
According to Microsoft, Mawingu Project will allow for revolutionary innovations similar to M-PESA:
“When we talk of a game-changer, Mawingu project will do for Kenya what the mobile phone has done. Rural parts of the country not only lack Internet connectivity but are also not connected to the electricity grid. However, this project is set to enable us to overcome our infrastructural challenges and allow for revolutionary innovation just like M-Pesa,” said Tonia Kariuki, marketing director Microsoft 4Afrika.
There are projects like Mawingu that are being withheld thanks to Digital Migration delay. As long as TVs are still broadcasting on analogue, the spectrum that could hitherto have been given to people like Safaricom to provide better Internet e.g. LTE at low cost are unavailable. Once the white spaces become available then ISPs will find it very cost effective to roll out programmes such as last mile connection especially for mobile phones.
Internet is a catalyst
Even though projects like Mawingu are well intended, it is important for all stakeholders to know that Internet alone does not add value if the connectivity does not incorporate programmes to empower users. Providing poor Kenyans or Africans with Internet would be like “cooking” catalysts without raw materials yet expecting a product to be produced.
Internet has immensely contributed to the GDPs of Brazil, India, and China yet the same cannot be said of Internet in Africa. Report by by McKinsey estimated that by 2013 Internet contributed only 1.1% of Africa’s GDP, a ratio that is merely slightly above half the contribution Internet has on other emerging economies as mentioned above. Other projections are estimating that by 2025, there will be a gross addition of $300 billion to Africa’s GDP. If this projection has to come true, there are things that must be put right, top being the need to strengthen economic pillars like commercialization of Agriculture, Industrialization, and funding Innovation for an Internet take-off.
Well done Microsoft to pilot the Mawingu Project in Kenya, but it is important to also ensure raw materials are in place for the Internet to catalyze.