Unlimited, Cheaper Wifi comes to Africa with the help of Solar Energy – Demonstrating Another Case for Small Government in the Developing World
The past three decades have brought humans into the age of information. Once connected to the internet, one can have access to vast swaths of information. The years of 2010 – 2017 have built upon the practicality of the internet as start ups and social media have taken on larger roles in society. They have become a source of news and have created new businesses, means of communication and transportation. Now a Nigerian founded company called Tizeti has partnered with Facebook to expand wifi in Nigeria and ultimately the rest of the African continent. The key is “Express Wifi”, a fast and affordable public hotspot service that caters to business and individuals alike.
Many African countries suffer lower rates of education and experience some of the lowest literacy rates, some being below 50%. Part of the problem comes from a lack of infrastructure that connects people to the resources offered in society. While it does not solve all the infrastructural problems, a freely available internet connection connects people to a wider range of information and even connects them with the global community. Access to the internet is a slight sidestep around the infrastructural dilemma, but it can cause a domino effect for development.
Tizeti is a company founded by Kendall Anyani. This company has partnered with Facebook and has secured 2.1 million USD to launch its initiative. This money has come from Western Technology Investment, Social Capital, Vy Capital, Picus Capital, Ace & Company, Lynett Capital Partners, Zeno Ventures and a number of other investors.
While hotspots are not new, there is a unique component to the express wifi offered by Tizeti. Wifi will be provided by solar powered generators, thereby introducing a greener component to the city. It was a strategic business move that took advantage of the growing application of solar power in Nigeria as well as the decreasing cost of solar panels. Tizeti plans to use smaller cells that provide more coverage and has signed an Indefeasible Rights of Use (IRU) contract for the use of an submarine cable that extends service via a fiber optic cable going directly to its wifi towers. By relying more on solar energy Tizeti is able to avoid some of the infrastructural problems that have crippled other startups relying on conventional sources of electricity
Approximately 47% of Nigeria’s population has access to the internet, but this represents the largest number of internet users in Africa at roughly 91 million people. Those with access to the internet frequently find it to be a very expensive accommodation. The World Bank Business group has even ranked Nigeria 169 out of 190 in its ease of doing business index, making the country one of the worst places to do business. A major contributor to this abysmal rating is the price for internet connection. However the times are changing. PwC reported that the mobile data prices in Nigeria need to be reduced by at least 97% in order to accommodate the majority of its 180 million population. While this number seems daunting, Quartz Africa reported that the price of 500 MB of data dropped by 50% in only one month, thereby making a 97% reduction quite imaginable.
According to Tizeti’s website the company currently has about
“3,500 hotspots across half of Lagos. For businesses and larger homes, Tizeti offers roof-based radios to communicate with base stations and inside routers to distribute WiFi in the building. Public hotspots are also available.
Subscriptions are available by day, week, or month, for businesses and individuals. But unlike most Internet Service Providers (ISP) in the area, Tizeti does not limit data use. With wifi.com.ng, users can stream and download as many videos as they want – and they get it for half the price of traditional services.”
above – an advertisement from Tizeti
So far Tizeti’s endeavors have reaped success and it has been this success that has secured its further funding of 2.1 million USD. With this money it intends to expand operations to the rest of West Africa. With a vast source of affordable wifi many people will be brought into the age of information. They will be introduced to new ideas and further connected to the arts which will inspire and feed their curiosity. The purchasing power of the country will also increase, thereby increasing the middle class. Internet has become so integral to modern society that a simple increase in one’s access to it can reap extremely beneficial, longer lasting effects. In a study published by Time, it was found that there was a 0.41 correlation between internet penetration and Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores. One can therefore clearly establish a relationship between the two factors. While correlation does not equal causation and there are a number of other factors that contribute to the rise of a country’s PISA score, greater access to the internet makes all other factors easier to accomplish.
Tizeti illustrates another example of privatization in the developing world. Developing countries have the tendency to suffer from rampant corruption and a government that is either unwilling or unable to provide its people with proper infrastructure. Many African countries exemplify this. Nigeria has the resources and wealth to surpass the UAE, yet its oil rich areas are some of the least developed. In the 1960s South Korea was considered one of the poorest countries in the world, behind the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Today South Korea is among the world’s wealthiest nations while the DRC remains underdeveloped.
Tizeti is not the first private company to improve an African country’s infrastructure and it will not be the last. What governments like Nigeria’s should do is take a lesson from South Korea. Despite direction from the United States to focus on its small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), South Korea chose instead to focus on creating a handful of strong conglomerates known as chaebols, Korean for “wealthy clan”. These chaebols are well known and consist of companies such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai. It was these conglomerates that pulled Korea out of economic depression after the Korean war. Korea focused on creating these strong companies instead of SMEs because they wanted a great economy not a good economy. The Korean government has since worked closely with its chaebols and conditioned them through a series of large subsidies. This has been unfolding in Nigeria as well, the Dangote Group, a powerful corporation in concrete, sugar and manufacturing, receives hefty subsidies from the government and has risen to help make Nigeria Africa’s largest economy. In short, many governments of the developing world have played a limited role in developing the infrastructures of their respective countries, thereby opening the door for a series of private start ups to launched much needed initiatives. As the start ups improve the infrastructure that helps small and medium sized enterprises, there should be added focus by the government to subsidize its strongest corporations while still tending to the larger infrastructural projects. In the end, only time will tell on how start ups affect the developing world.