Many who travel to several parts of Africa for long periods of time can probably relate to the frustration that arises out of attempting to connect to the internet, anywhere. While Africa has one of the largest mobile industries, its capacity for wireless technology and ICT in general has been limiting. Internet Cafes are the ‘hot spots’ in most places, and, even then, replying to an email leads one into a stressful journey inside a broadband-less society. In this age of global connectivity, social media, and innovative technology, African countries across the continent are updating their technological capacity to adjust to the growing demands of their communities, especially those who return from abroad, anticipating a modern environment they can live comfortably in, and contribute towards, as normal as possible.
If you are not familiar with Internet Modems, they are devices that are usually deployed by internet service providers and they allow users to connect to the internet. These Modems are usually deployed to residential and commercial users across the world, and for a monthly fee, users can connect their computer or laptop hardwired with an Ethernet cable or connected through wireless with a router. Mobile devices can also connect to modems by accessing WiFi networks enabled by routers. Modems provide internet connectivity usually through various methods, such as through coax and fiber optic cables. In places like Maryland, New York, and London there is a solid backbone network already established that provides the right physical infrastructure to provide this technology to homes and businesses.
Nairobi, as with other parts in Africa, face a more complex problem; there is little to no physical infrastructure
It is only recently that fiber optics reached the coast of Africa. Prior to that, broadband was a foreign concept, as foreign as high-speed internet and high bandwidth. With many rural communities across the continent, telecommunication backbone networks are largely concentrated within urban areas, mainly capital cities and towns. The nature of the environment in several African countries makes them less conducive to the type of infrastructure that produces the common scenery one might find in Minnesota or Italy; streets lined with electrical and communication poles and nodes that create physical networks to transmit data from point to point. In the place of wires and cables strung across road networks in Africa, trees, sand, and air are among the things that form the scenery of open roads and residential neighborhoods in rural towns. As with many things, there is then the idea that all is lost for the Continent; creativity becomes static; innovation becomes unimaginable; and progress is abandoned for mediocrity. As always however, there are those who refuse to accept problems as they are, and change the way we imagine solutions.
A team of software developers, engineers, and technologists in Nairobi, Kenya developed an Internet Modem called BRCK.
Ushahidi, led by Kenyan native and co-founder Juliana Rotich, a Kenyan Software Developer and her team, approached the problem with the idea that existing technology can be exploited. BRCK performs the primary function of any Modem, it connects the user to the internet. It was designed especially for developing countries that lack the typical physical telecommunications infrastructure that other Modems need to function. The device is cloud-managed and it can connect to the internet through RJ47, WiFi Bridge, and Ethernet over USB. It comes in a very durable built container that can withstand some of the rugged environments found in Africa. BRCK is portable, it can connect to 3G/4G antennas and it comes with a rechargeable battery that can last for up to 8 hours.
The “Eureka” moment that this team uncovered, which led them to this ground-breaking invention, is that instead of focusing on adjusting technology to connect physically, it made more sense to create technology that is enabled largely through digital connectivity. Somehow, while this is a well-known concept among those in the technology field, the Kenyan-based Team exploited the idea, even further practically, and BRCK was the result.
Juliana and her team aren’t only limiting their technology to Africa, they’re setting their aim high and expanding their market worldwide, targeting users as far as San Francisco.
Learn more about BRCK by visiting their website. You never know, you might want to own one for yourself, especially if you reside in Africa and you are tired of trying to connect the old-fashioned way.