Funded by the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC) for a period of two years, the Wireless Africa initiative is a collaborative research and development project to study, validate and enhance business models that achieve economic sustainability of wireless infrastructure in rural and remote areas.
At a three-day workshop held in Tshwane from 25-27 June 2008, three respected organisations active in the field of wireless connectivity - Fantsuam Foundation in Nigeria, OneVillage Foundation in Ghana and Community Wireless Resource Centre in Uganda - were selected to set up reference sites for this project. Criteria for selection among contenders were readiness in a number of domains (business, technology and research), entrepreneurship and sharing of outcomes.
The landmark workshop was attended by 15 countries from the African continent, and was set up to promote networking and collaboration amongst partners in the Wireless Africa initiative.
Participants at the event supported the formation of the Wireless Africa Alliance, a unique network of like-minded supporters of community-owned networks. Participants in this network - the first of its kind on the African continent - will share resources and expertise, and collaborate in finding solutions to Africa's communication challenges.
Wireless technologies are believed to be a solution to connect remote communities on the world's least wired continent. The Meraka Institute's Chris Morris, who leads the project, states, "Why should rural, poor and remote areas in Africa be denied access to the information society through lack of infrastructure or because of exorbitantly high telecommunications costs?"
"Through Wireless Africa, we will have an increased understanding of the reasons for this failure. This, in turn, will inform the development of business models that may contribute to addressing the challenge of sustainable solutions.
"The three reference sites selected at the workshop have the responsibility to deliver in less than six months on a range of requirements. This will introduce the next phase, which is the replication by seven sites of the work done by the reference sites."
Morris is confident that as a pan-African initiative, Wireless Africa will make great strides through promoting innovative, cheap access in various contexts.
Four organisations will work closely with the Meraka Institute as consortium partners on this project. IT+46 will deliver hands-on training and technical advice in the areas of Voice over IP and traffic management. Wire.less.dk is involved in the technical development of the wireless internet technologies. KwantuMedia will lead the demand side studies and business modelling and the LINK Centre is involved in policy research.
Morris stresses, "To achieve lasting benefits, we will test and develop business models that support community-owned networks. Infrastructure supporting these networks is owned and/or operated locally."
He concludes, "The research and development of this project will result in easily scalable and replicable use of these technologies with high level of acceptance from end users. This, we believe, will provide sufficient motivation to influence policy makers and demonstrate the failure of the monopoly service providers in experimenting or allowing cheaper access technologies. Ultimately, Wireless Africa envisions the expanded use of ICTs in remote African locations."
For further information on Wireless Africa please go to: http://www.wireless-africa.org