Mawingu: Innovative technologies are unlocking affordable access to the cloud in remote communities in Kenya and around the worldExpand to read about Mawingu
If cloud computing is the fundamental enabler of the next great technology revolution, then internet access is the essential prerequisite for reaping the benefits and opportunities that the cloud will unleash.
For 4 billion people around the world, this is not an issue. But fairness and equity depend on ensuring that the 3.5 billion people who remain on the wrong side of the digital divide get access, too.
Nanyuki, Kenya—a town 125 miles north of Nairobi, where sending an email used to require a five-hour walk to the nearest wireless hot spot—offers hope that affordable access to the internet for all is achievable.
Mawingu (which means “cloud” in Swahili), uses technology that takes advantage of underutilized television broadcast spectrum known as TV white spaces to provide low-cost internet access to residents of Nanyuki and the surrounding countryside.
In its first three years, Mawingu has had a dramatic impact. By connecting county government offices, the county library, a Red Cross office, and a medical clinic to the outside world via the internet, Mawingu has improved access to public services and healthcare. At Gakawa Secondary School, one of five schools now connected to the internet, students have seen their scores improve on every single subject on the Kenya National Exam.
Mawingu also provides the infrastructure for new businesses such as Solar Cyber, an internet café that offers unlimited internet access for 3 U.S. dollars a month.
Run out of an old 20-foot shipping container, Solar Cyber is used by farmers who check market prices for their crops, students who do homework, and young entrepreneurs who connect with customers around the world.
The success of Mawingu has attracted international funding to take the technology to a national scale.
In September 2016, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. government’s development finance institution, committed to financing a 4.1 million U.S. dollar loan to help Mawingu provide affordable, solar-powered wireless internet to communities throughout rural Kenya.
Research conducted by the World Bank a few years ago suggested that a 10 percent increase in internet access in Kenya would translate to a 1.38 percent jump in GDP.
As cloud computing drives a new generation of technology-driven innovations, the potential for growth could be even greater. This means the impact of TV white spaces in Nanyuki and other places like it where internet access has remained out of reach will truly be transformative.