Mawingu Network’s Tim Nderi rolls out low-cost, regional Wi-Fi hot-spots, adding new Counties – “Nothing holding back further expansion”
Kenya’s Mawingu Networks was set up to target areas in Kenya without either electricity or data access. It has quietly built itself a customer base from what at first sight look like unpromising areas for Internet users. Russell Southwood spoke to Tim Nderi, Mawingu’s CEO about its expansion plans.
Mawingu’s business model is fairly straightforward. It sets up solar-powered hot-spots in places without grid power. These hot-spots are sales points with what it calls Attendants who help the customers access the Internet on their phone and sell them Internet time.
“We’re offering the equivalent of Internet cafes where the hot-spots are and you can also charge your phone”. Customers have a choice of two time-limited but bandwidth unlimited tariffs: the weekly Pepea Tariff for Kshs 100/- (US97 cents) or the monthly Thamani Tariff for Kshs 300/- (US$2.91).
Mawingu Networks has attracted international funding and support from a diverse range of partners including: Jim Forster, Vulcan Inc., Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), USAID, University of Southampton, Adaptrum, JTL and Strathclyde University.
Now in its second year it has 300 hot-spots across two counties (Laikipia and Meru) in Kenya and is going to expand this reach even further:”We are going to expand further in Meru and add Embu County…Our ambition is to get a regional presence and then go national.” It currently operates on regional licences. Nderi says nothing is currently holding back their expansion and they are finding it easy to recruit Attendants for the hot-spots.
It originally launched using TV White Spaces spectrum as part of Microsoft’s 4Afrika TV White Spaces initiative. But the pilot phase came to an end and Kenya’s regulator, the Communications Authority did not convert the pilot authorization into operating licences. So Mawingu transitioned into using ISM band spectrum to deliver its service.
It has more than 10,000 customers so I asked Nderi how they were using the service? They use their data in an average of two hour sessions:”Many are students using it for research. They also use apps like What’s App. There are people who search for commodity prices for things they’re selling like cabbages. People use Facebook and LinkedIn and are looking for employment. For entertainment, they look at things on You Tube.” Take-up has been good because locally there is around 20% smartphone penetration.
The counties covered are over 200 kms away from the capital Nairobi. Most people in the area are skilled farmers but some do subsistence farming or have smallholdings:”We’re getting our bandwidth from the backhaul networks of Liquid Telecom and Jami Telecom. There are no remote sites using satellite at the moment.”
Kenya’s devolution of local Government to its counties seems to have spurred a growth in the area:”It’s fast-growing because of devolution and there are companies there that have opportunities for growth. Government are giving people more revenues and doing things like building roads. Also the youth population is growing fast.” Use has been generated from students of local colleges and secondary schools.
So how does Nderi identify places that will be good for hot-spots?”We normally base it on a town and we’re looking for 200-250 people a day to use the hot-spot.”
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