Daniel Nzoma’s face glows in the light of a computer screen as he reviews computer codes used for driverless cars and crop disease detection, an unusual job in Nairobi’s crowded Pipeline neighbourhood.
Nzoma’s job, which includes “geotagging”, needs reliable and fast internet connectivity that used not to be available in Pipeline.
But start-up company Poa Internet is aiming to provide fast, cheap internet to low-income Kenyan neighbourhoods, such as Pipeline.
“The geotagging really requires high internet speed for you to be accurate,” said Nzoma, as hawkers and horns blared outside his home.
Companies often outsource work that underpins artificial intelligence to people who label roadside objects, or teach driverless cars to recognise their surroundings, distinguish between a smudge of dirt on a fruit and disease, teaching machines to do the same. But this is only possible with high speed internet.
Poa’s custom-built software platform and off-the-shelf cheap Wi-fi components connect home aerials to towers it builds in the neighbourhoods it serves. So far, they have connected 12,000 homes and also serve cyber cafes in Nairobi.
“We use a form of a super umped-up Wi-Fi to deliver, so we use wireless networks to deliver to customers’ homes and this allows us to reduce the cost to each home we connect, and we can pass that saving on to our customers,” Poa chief executive, Andy Halsall said.
Kenya is one of Africa’s most connected countries – 42% of Kenyans were online at the start of 2022, say internet researchers Datareportal. But connection quality is often low.
Cheap, fast internet bridges the “digital divide,” offering more access to jobs, trade, education, and social inclusion. But few, if any, companies lay fibre connections in poor neighbourhoods. Most people there connect through their phones using 3G or 4G data bundles.
Nzoma pays 2,500 Kenyan shillings ($21.78) monthly for unlimited fast internet, about half the fees charged by other internet providers and cheaper than phone data bundles, provided by companies such as Airtel or Safaricom.
In January, Poa closed a $28 million funding round led by infrastructure fund Africa50; it hopes to expand beyond Kenya. Halsall said the five-year-old company would turn a profit within a year.