Enabling Internet Connectivity in Africa: Weekly Review 9/8 – 9/12

Access to reliable power and internet connection in Africa is an issue that we are always seeking to solve with investments in new technologies. These new technologies and increased investment in the market are positioning Africa as a leader in growth. The articles below highlight the exciting developments.

Africa marked as fastest growing technology market on IT News Africa

Hemmanth Singh, managing executive of m-Commerce at Vodacom, revealed Africa as the fastest growing technology market at the 2014 Gartner Symposium. According to Singh, Africa’s growth is predicted to continue at 5-6% for the next two years and in that time 84% of Africans are expected to have better livelihoods than they do currently.

As the world’s fastest growing technology market, 56% of urban consumers own internet-enabled devices and 50% of the African population accessed the internet in the past month. There are more mobile money accounts than bank accounts in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, with mPesa in use by 15 million people in Kenya alone, moving the equivalent of 31% of annual GDP.

Kenya’s BRCK ships over 600 devices on BizTech Africa

Our portfolio company, BRCK, launched its units in July with the goal of providing internet connectivity to off-grid areas. Since the product launch, over 600 of the rugged wireless routers have shipped to 45 countries. The BRCK works to create a reliable internet connection and switches between Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and 3G or 4G networks. The BRCK also features an 8-hour battery to fall back on should the power fail, which is a constant problem. For example, in East Africa 90% of schools and 30% of hospitals are located off-grid according to the East African Community (EAC).

Only 24% of the developing world is connected to the internet and those with access often experience problems due to power outages. The creation of the BRCK is an attempt at solving the issue of internet connectivity and reliable electricity in rural communities. “This is a critical innovation for a variety of sectors across Africa. The BRCK taps into the unique market characteristic of emerging market internet subscribers: 65% of whom access the internet wirelessly,” the company stated.

East Africa tops Africa for internet access & connectivity on IT News Africa

Kenya currently has the highest bandwidth per person, the fastest speeds, and some of the lowest internet costs on the African continent, according to a presentation given by Liquid Telecom Kenya CEO Ben Roberts at the EastAfrica.com conference. “Kenya has achieved a confluence of infrastructure and provision that has positioned it with the highest internet take-up compared to income per capita in Africa” Roberts stated. Research by the Internet Society further found that East Africa offers the lowest internet costs on the continent, with Kenya the cheapest in the region.

The Internet Society’s report, ‘Lifting Barriers to Internet Development in Africa,’ found that Kenya outperformed in overcoming infrastructure barriers to arrive at its position as internet leader. Most critically, the government’s support has been directed at increasing access and participation by more carriers, resulting in the country’s bandwidth increasing to 20Gbit per second. The country also has 13 licensed international gateways, more than any other country in the region. The localization of internet connections through the Kenya Internet Exchange Point (KIXP) also played a critical role in Kenya’s rise to internet leadership, allowing local internet users to interconnect locally. This shift to local exchange has also impacted mobile operators. Operators are seeing an individual revenue increase of almost $6M a year from the rise of locally routed Internet traffic.

The benefits of the KIXP are beginning to extend beyond Kenya’s borders. As of January 2012, 56% of the Autonomous System numbers routed through the KIXP were from 16 foreign countries, both on the Continent and as far away as the United States. “The investment in this key national and local infrastructure is absolutely key to further increasing African internet speeds and reducing the cost of internet use to all users,” said Mr. Roberts.

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Data Visualization Intern – Immediate Start

Title:                           Data Visualization Intern
Start/End Date:          Immediately – December 2014 (potential for extension)
Location:                    Boston, MA
Schedule:                  10 hours per week (Flexible)
Pay:                           $400 Monthly Stipend

Invested Development is looking for a highly motivated student (graduate or undergraduate) for infographic design and data analytics/visualization assignments. The intern will help to design infographics, create interactive website content, and create automated data gathering solutions from public data sources.  Applicants should be comfortable working in a start-up environment with minimal resources and supervision.

Job Description

Responsibilities:

  • Create data driven interactive charts and infographics
  • Enhance look and utility of internal and external communications templates
  • Develop and implement data collection systems and other strategies that optimize statistical efficiency and data quality
  • Work closely with management to prioritize business and information needs

Key Skills/Requirements:

  • Strong understanding of graphic design and visual arts
  • Basic knowledge of web content management
  • Strong analytical skills with the ability to collect, organize, analyze, and disseminate significant amounts of information with attention to detail and accuracy
  • Experience using Github, Heroku or similar service is a plus

About Invested Development

Our mission is to reduce poverty through risk capital investments in innovative technology startups with solutions for underserved markets. We invest in early-stage alternative energy, mobile technology, and agriculture technology companies.

 To apply, please send resume to Katelin at koverton@investeddevelopment.com

Developments in Financial Inclusion: Weekly Review 9/1 – 9/5

You can’t invest in emerging markets without addressing financial inclusion. Between ICT innovations allowing for digital payments from pay as you go energy, financial inclusion is an effort we all must address in order to successfully create an impact.

The Next Frontier of Financial Services  James Militzer on Next Billion

Financial inclusion efforts usually center around savings and credit, but Jeremy Leach, director of Bankable Frontier Associates, believes that insurance and microinsurance is the next frontier. According to Leach, microinsurance penetration rates vary from 2-10% of the population in developing countries. The low penetration can be attributed to the lack of incentives for insurers to go into the lower mass market and distribution challenges. A possible alternative to the traditional broker and agent distribution models is to leverage mobile operators, which already have massive scale in emerging markets where the majority of the population has access to cell phones.

Leach sees insurance as an enabler for core financial products, driving other services. There is currently a free insurance product in Ghana linked to savings where the more customers save, the more insurance they get, which has already increased savings by 19%. The same model could be used in the context of mobile airtime use. Insurance can be an enabler for access to credit, by mitigating risks, which results in broader access to financial services.

Cash Burns Your Pocket Leora Klapper on Next Billion

Digital payments reduce the cost and increase the security of sending and receiving payments, and, as a result, progress towards the goal of broader financial inclusion. G20 nations are increasingly focused on helping underserved markets participate in the financial system. Groups such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Better than Cash Alliance, and the World Bank Development Research group have partnered to highlight the potential of digital payments, starting by measuring the size and scope of the financial inclusion challenge. Findex data revealed that only 41% of adults in developing economies have a formal bank account, meaning 2.5 billion adults globally lack accounts. This portion of the population that is not participating in the financial system has difficulty saving, borrowing, and investing.

heatmap

Digital payments offer immediate benefits for both senders and receivers. It’s cheaper to both send and receive money digitally than it is to handle cash. Digital payments also eliminate the need to spend time and money traveling to a bank in an urban area. Eliminating the need to travel long distances with cash makes digital payments safer as well as cheaper. The Gates Foundation report containing studies performed in India, Niger, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, El Salvador, Bolivia, Peru, the Philippines, Malawi, Kenya, Rwanda, Nepal, Mozambique, and the US illustrates the benefits of digitizing payments both as a way to make payments more efficient and as a step towards the larger goal of financial inclusion.

Using Mobile Money to Buy Water and Solar Power in East Africa Rachel Banning-Lover on the Guardian

Mobile phones continue to facilitate access to utilities such as solar home systems in poor rural communities. Purchasing solar home systems from companies like Mobisol or our own Simpa Networks under incremental payment plans acts as an entry point to mobile banking for many citizens.  In the case of Mobisol, covered recently in the Guardian, customers sign an agreement that allows Mobisol to store their data, including credit history, so they can track exactly how much has been paid. The increasing adoption of mobile money across East Africa along with increasing access to customer’s financial information has opened the door for other start-ups to begin to fill in the gap in service provision to poor communities. Gurdfos Lifelink (GLL) is providing water management solutions to communities across rural Africa, where 50,000 water supply points have failed, by fixing the water price within the system and allowing customers to pay without cash.

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