Mawingu: $3 a month Kenyan internet via TV white space & the sun

How one internationally funded startup is providing low-cost internet access for poor rural folks in Kenya

Rural areas in Kenya and the rest of Africa have zero, or extremely poor, access to broadband and mobile data. Satellite connections are expensive and a reserve of the rich. This means the rural folks are largely disconnected from the rest of the world. On top of this, the majority of these individuals do not have access to affordable electricity. Fortunately, Mawingu Networks, a local startup with international funding, now offers a solution.

Mawingu Networks Ltd leverages unused TV band spectrum (“TV white spaces”), while solar powered base stations are used to deliver broadband access. Accordingly, rural Kenyans are slowly getting included in the opportunity to reach their collective socioeconomic and learning potential through access to these tech objectives all with a flat rate of $3 per month.  

“Rural areas have been left out of internet access and they definitely need it,” Tim Nderi, the startup’s CEO tells IDG Connect. “Our goal is to deliver affordable, fast internet to off grid communities to enable them to improve their social and economic activities.”

Mawingu Networks has attracted funding from across the globe. With partners such as Jim Forster, Vulcan Inc., Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), USAID, University of Southampton, Adaptrum, JTL, NetHope and Strathclyde University.

“The startup philosophy is about letting people in rural Africa maximize their collective learning potential in a sustainable, socially responsible manner through exchange of information and ideas,” explains Nderi.

“We are bridging the power and digital divide for people living off-grid, particularly in rural communities. We believe that doing so will allow more people to actively participate in the regional, national and global markets for products, services, information and ideas. The aim is to ensure even very poor people have access to basic levels of electricity and broadband services at an affordable price.”

“Mawingu” is a Swahili word for cloud. As part of 4Afrika initiative by Microsoft the startup represents the first time unused TV White Space (TVWS) frequencies technology (TV channels in the uhf and vhf spectrum) have been used together with solar-powered base stations in the process of delivering low-cost broadband to digitally excluded rural areas lacking even the basic electricity. These are unused sections of the spectrum of TV frequencies initially set aside for analog broadcast television. Broadband delivered through TVWS technology has a stronger signal capable of traveling longer distances – across valleys and over hills, through and around buildings – than all wireless internet delivery methods.