Duse is a remote town in Northeast Kenya with a population of around 3,000 people. Literacy levels are low and raids from bandits are a frequent challenge. Before RuralStar it had no communication network. People walked 20 kilometers to the next town to use the Internet. Huawei and its customer, Safaricom, installed RuralStar in 2017 and bought 2G and 3G communications to Duse for the first time. The affect was transformational.
THE DIGITAL DIVIDE CHALLENGE IN RURAL KENYA
Kenya has a population of 48 million most of whom live in rural villages. Only 22 percent of households have Internet access. In the thriving cities of Nairobi and Mombasa, superior infrastructure has brought a new generation of Kenyans firmly into the digital world, but in rural areas like Duse there is still a long way to go. This is driven in a large part by associated costs, which slows the growth of networks resulting in uneven access to digital services that could help improve their lives.
“Now it is easy to access medicine because I can just make a call.” - Fatima Happy, Nurse, Duse Dispensary
“When there was cattle rustling and we wanted to report to the authorities we had to walk about 6 to 7 kilometers to get help.” - Daudi Halake, Chief, Duse Town
“This has assisted us so much because our teachers can now access the Internet for more information that will assist in teaching and learning.” - Mohammed Somo, Head teacher, Duse Primary School
Within two months of RuralStar’s installation there were 556 people connected for the first time. To record some of the changes, Huawei visited the village before and after RuralStar arrived.
Better healthcare: People can now call for ambulance services, which was previously impossible. The nurse who works at the local dispensary can now access online health information to help treat her patients. Previously she had to travel for 20 kilometers to the nearest phone to place orders for new medicines. Now she can do this whenever supplies run low. Correct stock levels can be maintained avoiding both wastage and shortages. Health reports can be emailed instead of carried to the authorities 40 kilometers away in Garba Tula Town. Previously the nurse went from door to door to inform people whenever food relief arrived. Now this can be done by phone.
Better security: Villagers reported security as a serious problem with bandit raids all too common. Public security has now improved. Incidents can be reported quickly and the Kenya Police Reserve and local Administration Police can mobilize faster whenever clashes are reported. They can now access online information, monitor events, and submit reports more quickly.
Better services: M-PESA from Safaricom, which is Kenya’s most popular mobile money service (and is hosted by Huawei technology), became accessible for the first time. Villagers and shopkeepers have used their phones to securely and conveniently save and store money, trade goods, re-stock their stores, and sell their products. An M-PESA store was opened and (as of February 2018) has two employees. A local store was able to expand and a number of new jobs have been created. Many workers in Duse have families elsewhere and they can now communicate and send money to loved ones. With the help of the nurse, several young people in Duse have also been able to apply online for jobs, scholarships and college places that would have been impossible before.
Better education: Duse primary school has 320 students and eight teachers. According to the head teacher, attendance has improved because of improved the security within village. Teachers with smartphones have been able to access information online and show videos and other content to students to aid their teaching, as well as, stay up to date with government notices.
Whilst other challenges associated with the digital divide, such as improving basic knowledge and skills to access mobile services remain, Duse has witnessed real improvement in villagers’ lives within just a few months because of RuralStar. Recognizing the need to help people get more use out of their mobile devices and the internet we are also providing training so the community can access more services and information.
Huawei’s Rural Star2.0 solution was launched in 2017 to reduce the cost of providing rural coverage. It is specifically designed to provide both 2G voice, SMS and mobile money services as well as 3G broadband data services for rural communities. With low power consumption, new battery technology, easy installation and innovations in both technology and tower design, it shortens the return on investment for operators to less than five years and promotes new rural network construction in emerging markets. So far the solution has been successfully deployed by 12 operators in eight counties, including Thailand, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Mexico.
Rural networks are expensive to build and maintain. In 2017, around 40,000 new base stations were built around the world to connect the unconnected. To maintain this level of investment the cost of network expansion constantly needs to be addressed. RuralStar is not simply about reducing the costs of a specific site. It is more than that. It is a network solution that reduces the cost of the overall network making investment far more likely. Without RuralStar investment in network expansion will be put at risk ensuring the digital divide remains for hundreds of millions of people.