Mawingu Networks: Digital Communications in Kenya
Rural areas are often burdened with poor internet access due to large distances from urban data centres and an outdated or absent infrastructure. This issue is exacerbated in developing countries where the cost of telecoms infrastructure is very high, and even if available internet access costs can often exceed the average monthly income.
The impact and benefits of high speed broadband in developing countries is well documented - people can access health and social welfare information, they can educate themselves, and learn more about business opportunities. This leads to improved quality of life, stability of communities and rise in economic growth. However in many rural regions in developing countries, access to optical fibre networks or copper infrastructures is outside the budget of many communities. These problems are then added to with issues of poor electrical power distribution and unreliable connections.
In Kenya, one member of the University's Centre for White Space Communication is tackling these problems head on using TV White Space radio (TVWS) frequencies and knowledge exchange and transfer from ongoing research projects. Mawingu Networks represents an excellent example of both technology transfer and the impact created by Strathclyde with partners in African nations. Since 2012 Strathclyde has engaged collaboratively with Microsoft on TV White Space (TVWS) communications research including in 2013 a project with Ofcom for a TVWS trial in 2014 in Glasgow, and a first demonstration of solar powered TVWS networks in Kenya working with the Microsoft 4Afrika project and Adaptrum Inc.
In 2014, jointly supported by a Strathclyde EPSRC Impact Accelerator Grant and co-funding from Microsoft Inc, Strathclyde’s Knowledge Exchange Fellow, Malcolm Brew, worked jointly with Microsoft on a project entitled TV White Space Network Deployment in Kenya. This work was based on many years of engineering know-how from setting up TV White Space communications networks in Scotland’s rural Highlands and Islands using renewable energy (wind), which was then translated to Kenya with the same communications technology, but switching the wind power with solar power. The success of the collaboration with Microsoft and the 4Afrika project, alongside engagement with local Kenya business, led to the set up of Mawingu Networks, with Malcolm Brew as CTO. Mawingu Networks was subsequently supported and invested in by Microsoft, and Paul Allan’s Vulcan Ventures fund, and in Sept 2016 received an Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) loan to finance a $4.1 million loan to expand the Mawingu rural Wifi networks.
Mawingu Networks is now firmly established and bringing very low cost internet connectivity to eight customer locations, five schools, the county government office, public library, Red Cross and a healthcare clinic. By September 2016, the network had grown to 10000+ users, and has highlighted by President Barrack Obama in his New York address to the US-African Business Forum (21 Sept). Engagement and joint project work with Strathclyde continues in Kenya and is now expanding to other partner countries in Africa.
Athena SWAN Success
The Department recently received its Athena SWAN Bronze Award.
The Department's submission was lead by Dr Ivana Kockar, and comprised a broad range of Academic & Administrative staff, along with student respresentation. The Athena SWAN Charter was established in 2005 to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing careers of women in STEMM employment in academia. In 2015, it was expanded to recognise work undertaken in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law, in professional and support roles, and for trans staff and students.
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