ICT Policy



City Profiles

Volo’s first customer quickly launches affordable high-speed Internet service in northern Uganda
August 18, 2014  ♦ Broadband ♦ No Comment

Just two months ago, we reported on how Silicon Valley-based Volo Broadband is enabling ISPs to use radically lower cost technologies to deliver high-speed fixed broadband, especially for small and medium enterprises, complementing mobile broadband for consumers. At the time, Volo was working on launching a new ISP in Gulu, Uganda. Hardly 12 weeks since first partnering, Volo’s first customer has already launched reliable (and affordable!) Internet service.

Backed by Volo Broadband’s expert design and cloud-based software integration, Zoom Wireless, northern Uganda’s newest Internet Service Provider, is now delivering the most affordable high-speed Internet access to businesses and residences in Gulu, Uganda. In fact, monthly Internet service can be had for 110 000 Ugandan Shillings, or roughly 40 USD.

volo zoom noc

Inside the Volo-powered Zoom Wireless Network Operations Center

A new start-up built based on years of field experience and designed in Silicon Valley, Volo enables ISPs and telecom providers in emerging markets to design and deploy fixed wireless broadband services quickly and profitably. As mentioned above, Zoom Wireless began offering a range of corporate and small business/residential grade fixed wireless services in Gulu, Uganda, within weeks of partnering with Volo.

With Volo’s engagement, the new ISP has designed and deployed a carrier-grade last mile WiFi network. This network is fiber-backed and integrated with the latest cloud-based management software, enabling Zoom Wireless to deploy it with 10 times less capital and operating cost than traditional LTE networks.

Volo’s experts got us up and running from greenfield to market in under 12 weeks. That would have been impossible without them. Now we have the systems to manage the network and the skills to deploy and expand it. We’ve already exceeded our goals for time to market and customer response to our first of a kind affordable fixed wireless service has been rapid.” – Joseph Walusimbi, General Manager of SINFA Uganda LTD and Zoom Wireless

Zoom Wireless is currently offering Internet services for corporate customers with speeds from 1-9 Mbps and small business/residential options of 512 kbps, 1 Mbps, or 3 Mbps at approximately 50% of the rates of their competitors and no usage caps. Custom-managed WiFi services are also available.

While these speeds may seem low in the context of developed world economies, the ability for ISPs or telecom providers to offer these services at affordable prices in emerging and frontier markets like Northern Uganda is transformative. Faster, more reliable access to the Internet is driving real productivity and employment.

This transformation was seen immediately at SINFA Uganda LTD’s Microwork division, where employees perform digital business process outsourcing that is 100% reliant on Internet access to download and upload data. Connected to the Zoom Wireless network in July as an early customer trial, the amount of microwork completed in one month was double their typical output. This boom in productivity meant they were able to not only perform more work but also employ more workers, increasing both revenue, and job opportunities – all things that are vital to economic growth in the region.

With these speeds, the future of the cloud is here. Businesses and consumers can confidently access cloud-based productivity tools that fuel economic growth that include Google Apps, Microsoft Office 365, Quickbooks Online and YouTube. As Volo’s first customer, Zoom Wireless proves the need for and impact of Volo’s services. Building on the success of Zoom Wireless, Volo is now ready to make our cloud-based ISP automation platform available in limited release and work with providers in Africa to demonstrate the speed and profitability that can be achieved with our system and expertise.” – Mark Summer, CEO and co-founder of Volo

Interestingly, a recent independent Quality of Service (QoS) assessment carried out by the Uganda Communications Commission indicated MTN Uganda as the leading network operator for the period February 2014 to June 2014. Large mobile operators like MTN may have thousands of kilometers of fibre infrastructure and hundreds of 3G sites. Yet performance is all relative – does it matter if one ISP or mobile operator is the best of what’s out there if on an absolute level all lack truly affordable and useful Internet service?

Hopefully outside-the-box thinkers like Zoom Wireless can benefit from the hardware and expertise that companies like Volo can provide. In many areas – both urban and rural – the most affordable solution for stable Internet connectivity may very well come from a WiFi network that acts like a fixed broadband connection rather than less reliable (but more commonly deployed) 3G and LTE services .

Online Africa Weekly Top 10: free Internet services in Zambia, Uber in Lagos, ICT prevents spread of Ebola, and more
August 5, 2014  ♦ News ♦ No Comment

A few themes from the past two weeks of news headlines are worth discussing in greater detail. partners to bring free web services to Zambia.

Airtel Zambia subscribers will soon have the option to use a variety of apps for free thanks (indirectly) to Facebook. Data charges will be voided for users of the app which in turn, offers Wikipedia, Facebook, Google Search, WRAPP (Women’s Rights App), MAMA (Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action), and AccuWeather. The partnership aims to bring more people online with the hope they discover valuable services that would otherwise go unnoticed. Critics are concerned the free access to Facebook is a long-term plan from the company to attract more users who will eventually contribute to ad revenue.

Multiple SIMs no longer needed in southern Somalia.

Three telecoms companies in Somalia (Hormuud, NationLink, and Somtel) have agreed to share services. That is, a customer on one network will be able to call a customer on a participating network without having to switch SIM cards. In theory, such an agreement will save customers the hassle of carrying around multiple SIMs, but in practice, the rates of connecting to a different network aren’t clear. Reports suggest that inter-network calls cost anywhere from 2x-5x the normal rate. Moreover, Hormuud could benefit more than other operators since it has the largest market share in the region. Still, inter-connectivity is a step forward in improving quality of service and potentially, in lowering end-user costs.

Another example how mobiles are helping agriculture.

Much global attention has been given to Kenya’s iCow or M-Farm. However, there are plenty of other apps helping farmers in other nations. In Senegal, Daral, a collaboration between Microsoft 4Afrika, Coders4Africa, and a few other developers, gathers livestock data.  Not only does such data prevent theft, it also allows farmers to manage the livestock’s health. If an animal is stolen, the owner can have police send an SMS alert to the region.

Uber is available in Lagos.

After launching last year in South Africa, Uber is now available in Nigeria. Early reviews are promising. Yes, the service generally will cost more than a traditional taxi, but it is lauded for its convenience and transparency.

Jumia expands to three more countries.

It’s hard to miss news about Africa’s e-commerce darling Jumia this year. The company, set-up by VC firm Rocket Internet, now has operations in Uganda, Ghana, and Cameroon, among 5 other African markets. Many of the nations have a low level of Internet savviness (and ability for online payments) but that isn’t stopping the company from offering thousands of products for sale.

ICT is helping raise awareness of Ebola in West Africa.

In Nigeria, various agencies and groups are using social media to help prevent the disease from spreading within the country. So far, cases in Nigeria have been extremely rare and isolated. Sierra Leone, with hundreds of reported cases, is doing less to spread information about the disease using SMS and social media. However, that could change any day.

Draft cybercrime laws attract fear.

Legislation that protects online users in Africa is usually lacking. When draft laws appear online, they often take national security too far at the expense of users’ rights to privacy. Such could be the case in Tunisia, where a new cybercrime draft law has been deemed too vague. Odds are the current draft will not be enacted without major changes, however. Still, the fear of online censorship remains, especially given Tunisia’s past.

Congo-Brazzaville will soon have a digital governance agency.

The ICT industry in the country has been neglected for years and needs policy updates. A new agency will monitor and control ICT projects. In fact, Congo-Brazzaville has reportedly just adopted a new information communication technology policy.

Niger will soon have greater 3G competition.

Orange launched 3G service in Niger a year or so ago, with 67 sites as of 2013. Relatively few mobile customers use the service; costs are still prohibitive. Airtel now has a license to offer 3G service in Niger – a move that should help to reduce data costs as operators lower prices to attract customers.

Government-imposed telecom taxes are upwards of 50%.

In many cases, African mobile operators pay 30-50% of their revenues to the government. One consulting group even puts the average taxation amount at 30% (and a high of 53% in Zambia). Where the money goes varies but one thing is certain: steep taxes at such a high level tend to trickle down to the consumers. Taxation of incoming calls does not need to reach 10-20%.

JumpStart Africa makes crowdfunding available to African entrepreneurs
July 21, 2014  ♦ Business & Video ♦ 2 Comments

JumpStart Africa is the first crowdfunding platform to revolutionize the way the world supports Africa by backing innovative projects developed by African entrepreneurs. Simply put, JumpStart Africa is Africa’s Kickstarter.

All entrepreneurs face great challenges – coming up with the perfect idea, finding the time to develop a plan, etc. – but those in Africa have an even harder time securing funding for such projects. Banks aren’t as supportive and investors are generally scarce due to challenging business environments and legal structures. Online payments remain a challenge for many in Africa, but there are a growing number of solutions that allow more people to start and support businesses.

JumpStart Africa aims to change that by creating a uniquely African online platform to attract attention for African entrepreneurs. The process to create a campaign is similar to other crowdfunding campaigns – set a campaign length, set a fundraising goal, create a video, and set perks. What sets JumpStart Africa apart from other crowdfunding sites is a dedication to African ideas. Potential backers already know that all projects on the site are intended to empower African entrepreneurs and can therefore understand the projects through a more refined lens.

Though the site isn’t 100% live, JumpStart Africa is already accepting projects to help aspiring entrepreneurs raise the funding they so desperately need. We had the chance to test-drive the platform and we must say the flow is seamless. Nearly all features are similar to those found on popular sites Kickstarter or Indiegogo (a good thing!). If a project is successfully funded, JumpStart Africa will apply a 10% fee.


In the meantime, we encourage you to signup for the newsletter and better yet, considering submitting a project. Projects can fall into any category (art, comics, craft, design, fashion, film, games, music, photography, publishing, technology are all free game) as long as they lead to an eventual product.

Plus, Jumpstart Africa is hosting a free Q&A session with their Founder, Ahmed Zrikem, on July 31st. This is a great opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators to meet with a seasoned African entrepreneur live via Google Hangout.

Note: JumpStart Africa is accredited by the Crowdfunding Accreditation for Platform Standards (CAPS).

 Older Posts:

Online Africa Weekly Top 10: e-commerce in the spotlight, figuring out local content, Angola as an ICT leader, BRCK ships, and more
July 17, 2014 ♦ News
  No Comment

We take a deeper dive on top stories of the week including the prospect for African e-commerce, the growing adoption of tablets in African education, the nuances of local content, and more.

UN survey finds African governments need to prioritize online service delivery
July 9, 2014 ♦ ICT Policy & Statistics
  No Comment

Few African governments offer a suite of online services for citizens. In fact, nearly one-third of African countries are in the bottom 10 percent of the world rankings. That, however, is changing, and there are dozens of successful African examples of e-government initiatives.

Reasons why Cameroon needs to open up its 3G market
July 6, 2014 ♦ Broadband & Mobile
  No Comment

Cameroon lags behind other African nations in terms of broadband affordability. A recent Research ICT Africa policy brief addresses what is causing the high cost – and what can potentially be done to remedy the situation.

Online Africa Weekly Top 10: Africa’s mobile money lead, 5G, solar-powered schools, Eritrea’s internet snapshot, and more
July 2, 2014 ♦ News
  No Comment

We take a deeper dive on top stories of the week including solar-powered schools, lower tariffs for Gabon, South Africa’s access divide, Africa’s mobile money lead, African 5G, Eritrea’s internet stats, and Libyan voter registration.

Quick African broadband trends from Akamai’s ‘The State of the Internet, Q1 2014′ report
June 27, 2014 ♦ Statistics
  One Comment

According to Akamai, Sudan has seen rapid growth in fixed broadband speeds in 2014. Libya has seen a continued decline. South Africa’s average connection speed is around 2.6 Mbps.

Online Africa Weekly Top 10: made in Africa tablets, PayPal, new TV white spaces trials, and more
June 20, 2014 ♦ News
  No Comment

Our top 10 stories from the past week feature made in Africa tablets, PayPal, new TV white spaces trials, and more.