Thursday, April 02, 2009

Interwebs in Africa

A friend recently wrote to me asking about internet access here in Uganda, specifically in more rural areas. I thought that it might be something that others are interested in so here is my response to him:

Our business is running on the fact that the national electricity provider only has 300,000 customers in a country of 30+ million people. At least 90% of the population is living off the grid so this pretty much makes internet impossible for now since something has to power the computers. So far there isn't a great option for running them on solar but we're working on it.

In the towns that are connected to the grid there are usually internet cafes that I imagine use dial-up so slow you wouldn't even recognize it as the internet ;) Also some of my friends in Kampala have little modems for their laptops, put out by cell phone service providers, about the size of business cards, that are supposed to connect them to the internet where ever there is cell coverage for that particular company. There is a satellite company here but I'm not sure exactly how it works. In any case, internet is quite expensive, that little modem is about $150 for the modem itself then about $65/month.

The big news for geeks here is that the "cable" is going to "hit the continent" any day now. Meaning that fiber-optic cables are being extended from somewhere in the middle-east to the Kenyan coast. This is supposed to speed things up a lot and decrease the price maybe but no one seems to know exactly what will happen when it lands - the feeling is akin to that leading up to Y2K, except that it can really only get better.

My friend Jon has a very popular blog about technology in Africa that you might be interested in, he's recently been recognized for his efforts by some pretty big players like Google.