BRCK’s Moja, a free public WiFi project for smartphone users in Kenya which was announced in March, is now live in several areas in Nairobi. It has also signed up partners, Facebook and Vanu, for similar trials in rural Rwanda.
Vanu Inc is providing low-energy and solar-powered base stations to BRCK in Rwanda.
Unlike Rwanda where BRCK is the only firm working on free public WiFi, Surf and Poa Internet are working on similar but ad free models targeted at low-cost communities at a daily, weekly or monthly fee.Free or affordable internet is a great initiative and BRCK’s Moja has evaded the net neutrality debate by running ads to pay for Internet in Kenya. In Rwanda, Facebook’s Free basics is the main focus and might raise eyebrows.
It’s not a big deal though as Airtel runs Facebook’s Free Basics service in various markets to help bring as many people online as possible.
If this partnership works, and the pilot proves successful, BRCK would have found its holy grail in the Moja free WiFi network, after the rugged BRCK v.1 turned out to be too expensive and bulky for individuals and government agencies in Africa to deploy in remote schools. The earlier version went for $200+, hardware alone.
In Rwanda, the SupaBRCK, and its Moja software and Vanu are building a local content delivery network (CDN) with free content such as licensed music, news, books, TV shows and of course Facebook allowing users in off-grid areas to connect to great educational and entertainment content, TED shows, jobs and Facebook then the rest of the internet, which is free at the moment.
Using its Vanu SuperPico and a small laptop based GSM MSC, Vanu runs a private GSM Network capable of operating as a standalone GSM network or as a GSM extension to a VoIP wireline network. The SuperPico is a weatherproof, power-efficient GSM Base Station Subsystem (BSS) that is specifically designed for outdoor deployments and has a superior transmit footprint than most Micro Base Stations.
Together the SuperPico Cellular Radio and BSS Controller constitute a GSM BSS offering that can efficiently deliver voice and data services in a compact and portable package. Coupled with a laptop based MSC, the SuperPico is ideally suited for rapid deployment or mobile GSM infrastructure. The system can operate in disconnected mode when a backhaul network is not available, and can utilize an IP network for backhaul when available, The system has been qualified with satellite, microwave, DSL, and WiFi backhaul networks.
SupaBRCK’s Moja WiFi therefore has a reliable hardware partner optimized for rapid setup with minimal configuration. Vanu’s hardware is able to make voice calls and automatically recovers from power outages and can utilize alternative power such as solar or vehicle battery.
Moja free WiFi is also being deployed in Kenya in restaurants, bars, cottages and in Matatus on various routes. Matatu WiFi will not work though due to fear of pickpockets who most times collude with bus crew. However, the general population loves free internet and the firm would make a kill if it signs up as many advertisers as possible.
Safaricom’s Vuma WiFi died and Google’s Wazi WiFi failed too and Liquid Telecom has been talking about free WiFi in urban centers for years now but that doesn’t mean BRCK can’t try it out.