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Academic publications shed light on Internet usage in rural Zambia

August 22, 2012  »  City Profiles & WebNo Comment

A couple of months ago we came across a series of publications on rural Internet usage in Macha, Zambia. The research, conducted by D.L. Johnson, V. Pejovic, E.M. Belding, and G. van Stam seeks to discover how to best deploy wireless solutions for developing areas of the world. Suggestions focus on caching, local traffic routing, and finding other ways to keep the satellite link from reaching saturation.

The three publications (2010, 2011, 2012) are loaded with additional insight into the traffic structure of a rural community of 300 local Internet users. Although academic in nature, the findings are easy to digest and nuggets of information are seemingly in every paragraph. A few points of interest are below, but one word, “Facebook”, defines Internet habits, even in Macha.

D. L. Johnson, E. M. Belding, K. Almeroth and G. van Stam, Internet usage and performance analysis of a rural wireless network in Macha, Zambia, NSDR’10, San Francisco, CA, June 2010.

  • C-band VSAT costs US$ 1,200 per month for sustained 128 kbps download speeds
  • caching saved nearly 20% in bandwidth (less than expected)
  • Facebook host and CDN made up 20% of total requests
  • 99.9% of traffic contains files less than 1MB, but the remaining 0.1% of traffic occupies 50% of the total bytes downloaded
  • 60% of the satellite bandwidth would have been consumed had all 3,162 YouTube video requests during the 14-day period of study been downloaded

D. L. Johnson, V. Pejovic, E. M. Belding, and G. van Stam, Traffic Characterization and Internet Usage in Rural Africa, WWW’11, Hyderabad, India, March 2011.

  • based on interviews, 100% of Internet users in Macha access both the web and email; 73% use Skype or gTalk
  • 77% use Facebook and 96% utilize Google searches
  • 82% of interviewees have remote online friends whom they had not yet met in person
  • 28% have attempted to participate in e-commerce
  • male computer users averaged 22 hours per week; women spent 8 hours weekly
  • 9 machines (out of 201) seen over a 10-day window were infected by bots

D. L. Johnson, E. M. Belding, and G. van Stam, Network Traffic Locality in a Rural African Village, ICTD’12, Atlanta, GA, March 2012.

  • cost of $30 for 1GB or 31 days
  • as many as 60 users may concurrently use the Internet
  • fraction of requests for Facebook grew from 16% to 20% from 2010 to 2011
  • 54% of Facebook chats are between local users
  • over 2 months, 573 unique Facebook users were identified (140 were permanent local residents)
  • based on a survey of 77 users, 67% use the Internet for more than 3 hours per day and 91% wish to access the Internet more frequently
  • cost and bandwidth limitations are essentially tied for the factor preventing more frequent Internet use

For more information on how the Internet is changing parts of rural Zambia, visit Macha Works, an international network that supports rural development in Zambia and Zimbabwe.