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Enabling Public WiFi for Bangladesh, and making a case for Africa

Bangladesh is a developing country in the Asian continent with incredible scope growth. However, an important setback is that large parts of Bangladesh are still disconnected from the internet.

The lack of reliable and fast connectivity in the region has stalled the influx of industrial and socio-economic growth. However, aligning with our vision simplifying connectivity, we decided to team up with a domestic ISP from Bangladesh to ensure last-mile, pan-region wireless connectivity.

Large parts of Bangladesh suffer from spotty, to zero coverage of the internet at all. Extending fibre optic lines to these remote towns and villages is a great development, however ensuring FTTH is quite a task because of the heavy costs it incurs.

The key challenges for the project were:
1) Working with a complex, pan-region deployment
2) Deploying a solution which doesn’t require expertise to maintain and operate
3) Keeping access to the internet inexpensive
4) Maintaining quality of UX over Public WiFi
5) Tough operating environments in rural and semi-urban areas
6) Remotely manage & monitor operation of over 1500 deployments
The project came with its own complexities and nuances to solve and overcome. The solutioning approach needed experience and expertise in setting up Public WiFi hotspots. With more than 50+ large-scale public WiFi hotspot deployment projects in the bag, we knew exactly what needed to be done.

We figured that Public WiFi Hotspots was the way to lead change and deliver pervasive connectivity.

We identified two key categories in Bangladesh which needed internet services and where it will serve its purpose the best:
1) Where the population was underserved, and needed the internet as a tool for accelerating development of the people.
2) Where the density of population was relatively higher than other areas, where Public WiFi Hotspots could benefit as many people as possible.

The map below details the areas we covered under the project

We covered all 8 divisions of Bangladesh. We brought last-mile connectivity to far-off, underserved towns and villages. As per our estimates, we covered more than 80% of Bangladesh’s geography and brought internet connectivity through Public WiFi hotspots.

We deployed UniMax 510AC Access Points, with WiOS, a cloud-based WiFi manager and a mobile app to access all Chaya WiFi Hotspots anywhere in Bangladesh.

Our UniMax 510AC Access Points are specially designed to suit outdoor environments. They offer up to 1200 Mbps speed and can handle over 100 concurrent users at a time.

In terms of sheer number numbers, we deployed 1114 Access Points all across Bangladesh, with a record 138,699 users registered till date.

Users use an Android mobile app to register themselves once with their mobile number. Each user gets free WiFi for a certain time so they can experience the service. If they need additional access, they can purchase a voucher from the local store or purchase Internet service online using BKash payment gateway.

All these transactions can be done through the mobile app with easy to use interface.This freemium structure enables users to first check for themselves if the WiFi works before making online purchase.

This WiFi deployment is a good example where public WiFi can be monetized if it is deployed in under served areas and people benefit from Internet service.

The company has achieved revenue of over 5 million taka over a 6 month period.
At Indio, we envision global, simplified connectivity. Connectivity hassles, the lack of necessary hardware and software for public WiFi hotspots has kept the world disconnected.
Through the project, we have managed to connect more than a 100,000 people on Public WiFi hotspots spread over 1000 locations. The project envisions to cover majority of rural and semi-urban regions of the country so low-income household will get affordable access to the Internet.

The number of opportunities the deployment has enabled ease of living, and simply connectivity for people.
Last-mile connectivity projects like these have ensured accelerated development. We managed to speak to a few people who benefitted from this project and here’s what they had to say:

I am truly grateful today. The WiFi has essentially opened our community up to a range of possibilities. We can start businesses because of the internet, or even provide online schooling classes to our children now.
-Saadiq, 29, A Worker.

I always read stories of how people went on the internet to learn about things. I now use the internet daily to learn more about things and study hard.
-Fatima, 12, School Girl.

Since the availability of reliable & fast WiFi, we have seen a huge increase in the usage of internet in our community. We are developing our community and increasing opportunities through it.
-Zahid, 44, Community Leader.

It is these stories which empower us to do more in the space of wireless and further simplify connectivity for the world & its people.

A Case for Africa
There is a disturbing trend in developing geographies that despite all efforts, the proliferation of internet services all across the region has not reached the lower strata of the society..
The lack of internet services incurs huge costs to a country and severely restricts the growth prospects and modernization. Reduced investment, loss of opportunity and slowdown in growth are just a few things to name a few.
However, of all developing geographies, Africa suffers from the lowest rates of internet penetration.

Here are a few excerpts from an article we published earlier:

“Sub Saharan Africa is one the few developing geographies in the world which despite being nudged by the COVID-19 pandemic, is still witnessing slow, but steady socio-economic development and upliftment of people’s livelihoods. According to a Pew survey, Sub Saharan African countries reported a median of 41% people having occasional internet access across the population [1]. However, this internet access is restricted to frustratingly slow and ancient 2G internet access. 3G and 4G penetration was reported to be only 25% [2] .”
“For a community to grow, there are several factors which play an important role. However, widespread internet connectivity is one of the defining factors that actually shapes the path and decides the time it will take to materialise that growth.”
“Public WiFi can help us solve this problem. It is way easier to create pockets of Public WiFi Access Points powered by mobile internet and domestic broadband lines than it is to use only mobile or broadband for internet penetration,. Public WiFi Access provisioning enables remote communities to use the internet at a much lower cost too as compared to mobile internet access. It was reported that one Gigabyte of mobile internet in Africa costs as high as $35, which turns out to be a whopping 8% of total income [3]. It is uneconomical to invest into something that takes almost 10% off your income which has prevented millions of African from connecting to the Internet. Public WiFi is an enabler of opportunity. It can help us to harness the potential that Africa holds for itself as well as the world community.”
“The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) forecasts that digital transformation will increase Africa’s economic growth by two percentage points per year and result in a decrease in poverty by one percentage point per year, it also states that by 2030, 50% of all African people will live in cities [5]. Cities in developed geographies have omnipresent Public WiFi accessibility. Public WiFi in cities adds a different dimension to ease of living. From allowing easy navigation to helping people understand their environment, Public WiFi has served all purposes. Nordic countries have many success stories with Public WiFi.”

Our solution is reliable, inexpensive and affordable for the masses. We can even reach out to corners of a country where cabled infrastructure is not available through LTE or satellite backhaul.

Our cloud WiFi controller allows you to remotely configure, and deploy our access points anywhere in the world. The Access Points are enterprise-grade and offer best-in-breed outdoor WiFi experiences to users.

The diagram below shows how our public WiFi solution can offer various benefits to the people:

Conclusion: Public WiFi deployments all over the world have helped and aided economies to grow and communities to success. Countries which rank high in ease of living indices often have Public WiFi Hotspots as a key factor which adds on to the experience of well-being in the country; for the citizens and non-citizens alike. These deployments can be monetised, which provides value addition in terms of revenue to the operator of the Public WiFi deployment.
Public WiFi is an inexpensive and reliable way of ensuring pervasive, fast internet connectivity all over a region.
As an organization with a focus on simplifying connectivity, we always seek opportunities which allow us to enable pervasive internet for the people. We are always open to ideas, learning and engaging

References
[1] https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2018/10/09/internet-use-is-growing-across-much-of-sub-saharan-africa-but-most-are-still-offline/
[2] https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2019/10/17/achieving-broadband-access-for-all-in-africa-comes-with-a-100-billion-price-tag
[3] https://qz.com/africa/1577429/how-much-is-1gb-of-mobile-data-in-africa/#:~:text=As Quartz Africa has previously,below the global minimum standard.
[5] www.ipsnews.net/2019/09/africas-industrial-development-turning-challenges-opportunities/#:~:text=Africa’s Industrial Development: Turning Challenges into Opportunities,-By Li Yong&text=Digital transformation is also growing,point in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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