I’ve been watching the Connect Africa story for many years. It’s been developing and growing as different technologies have been taken into rural areas for testing, and to find out what the needs of the people living there actually are.
The Connect Africa team get the fact that for any offering to be sustainable and viable, you not only need to be meeting a real need (and not a projected one from your perspective), but you also need to have the buy-in from the people who the offering will be serving.
I remember a story of a satellite pay-phone being installed in a tobacco growing area, and the response being so overwhelming the phone failed to keep up with the demand.
And the case of the roaming vehicle which drove around from area to area offering a full service centre of pay phones, photo copying, faxing, and the means for government officials to deliver services in the rural areas.
Today, Connect Africa’s years of field work have led to them to working with MTN Zambia. They are busy testing their latest solution for the needs of connectivity in rural areas, which is a low tower, low power compact transmitter. This solution was not widely available before now, and will make covering the hard to reach and less populated areas more practical and sustainable.
I was advised to bring an extra jacket, as we arrived outside the heart of the MTN network in Zambia. After passing through the security check point, we were escorted to the first floor of the Switch, with the tower looming over it, and satellite dishes surrounding it.
The room is packed with servers, with lights flashing, buzzers beeping, wires and cables in a chaotic order, and fans doing their best to help the air-conditioners keep everything cool.
We zig-zagged our way around the rows of servers, stepping over fans, and found the cabinet that is hosting the Connect Africa equipment.
I got to tag along, glad I had my extra jacket, as Multisource‘s (Connect Africa’s technology supplier) engineer, Ian, drew up a little schematic diagram of what he needed, to set up his testing that he will be running over the next few days.
It’s amazing to think that, as I stood there, there were millions of people getting to connect to their loved ones, making business deals, arguing over trivialities, building relationships all through their cell phones. And that these flashing lights and puzzles of cables, were making it all possible.
Dion summed it up, commenting that this is humanity in it’s modern format. “These servers, media gateways, lights and noise – our lives centre around this… doesn’t it?”
Written by Telana Simpson