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In Mankosi Village You Can Get One Month Uncapped Internet For Less Than $2

While Zimbabwe’s Internet Providers are busy hiking internet costs beyond the reach of many and sadistically calling in “price alignment”, in Mankosi village in South Africa you can get one full month of internet for $1.70. That’s RTGS$5.10 in case you think I misplaced a comma somewhere.

An eye-popping cheap figure by any measure. That’s what it would cost to buy a pack of jiggies (colloquial name for all crackers). So how did they achieve this feat you ask? Well the group of villages run their own ISP which is owned and operated by the community.

This is how it all came to be

The village runs it’s own mesh networks which is then linked to the internet. Several strategically located houses have base stations installed on them. These run on solar although the village got electricity last year thus significantly reducing the cost of running the entire network.

When they learnt about the beast called the internet, which could help villagers keep in touch cheaply while helping them with all manner of information, the village, with the help of the University of Western Cape built a mesh network and so Zenzeleni (Do It Yourself) Networks was born.

Due to economies of scale, the network still makes a profit even at the prices they charge. They also make money selling VoIP vouchers that people can use to call each other. It costs about 17% of what people normally pay to make calls in South Africa. Zenzeleni instead charge 50% of network charges thus making a profit. The profit is used to maintain the network and to fund other development projects within the villages.

Several villagers have been trained to install and maintain the towers as in house technicians.

Zimbabweans could do this too

Villages and indeed small towns are often neglected in Zimbabwe. For example, getting reliable and affordable internet is a pain in Nyanga, where I come from. Often you are stuck with GPRS on all networks and while Telone’s ADSL has improved things a bit there are still plenty of downtimes due to things like vandalism and cable theft.

In January POTRAZ announced that they were going to introduce simplified registration for Broadband Fixed Wireless Access (BFWA) using 2.4GHz & 5.8GHz bands. These can be used with mesh networks and villagers can form their own Zenzelenis.

Unlike centralised base stations that often cost something north of $100 000, mesh networks are made up of cheap nodes that can be more easily maintained and replaced reducing foreign currency needs.

Murambinda Works is doing something similar although they seem to have gone with the centralised base station route instead of building mesh network.

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