PayU Computing in Africa Could Change Everything

The cell-phone revolution in Africa has been called a “silver bullet” for development. On my first trip to Uganda in 2007, I remember being astonished to find that the mobile phone networks even in remote parts of the country were better than those in cities in the United States. On the other hand, the internet revolution still lags. On my most recent trip to Uganda, the speeds at internet cafes were still at dial-up levels and in Kisangani, D.R.C. residents pay as much as $550 per month for regular service.

Why mobile phones and not the internet? The answer lies in the very construction of these two interrelated, but different budding industries. While the mobile phone costs approximately $30, a computer still runs over $1000 in most African cities. In addition, airtime credits for mobile phones can be purchased at thousands of venders in every village across the continent. These credits come in denominations as low as pennies. In contrast, most internet services are still on a monthly basis. Lastly, mobile phones are easy to charge anywhere and have a long battery life. As John Travis over at aboutfog commented, the tablet computer could change this aspect of portability and long battery life in computing – but without reliable WiFi and dramatic decreases in prices, tablets will face the same problems as other traditional computers in Africa.

But what about internet cafes? The same issue applies. While these are widely frequented throughout the continent, their speeds are terrible, their computers are ancient, and their hard drives are full of viruses awaiting the unsuspecting customer.

So why not design a company that can deliver internet to subscribers just like a mobile phone? Why not move the internet café to the household?

This is exactly what Adnaan Jiwaji, Guy-Richard Kayombya, Ammar Jiwaji, and Raymond Besiga had in mind when they designed PayU Computing. Using mesh networks, they have designed a cloud technology that helps to deliver internet services to households, businesses, and schools at reduced cost and faster speeds. Clients pay for the workstation and internet services as they go. Workstations for households are preloaded with Open Office, Adobe Reader, and other common programs. Their packages for educational use include 20-25 workstations preloaded with educational software. Their partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology allows them to provide access to MIT’s iLabs Remote Electronics Experiments and MIT Open Courseware.

PayU is still in development, but a pilot study in Kigali, Rwanda in January 2009 using both consumers at a coffee shop and a high school was positively received by the Rwanda Information Technology Authority.


3 Replies to “PayU Computing in Africa Could Change Everything”

  1. Thanks for this great article. We really hope that with our infrastructure,we can improve the way people allover East Africa access the Internet and Computing devices. We know that the use of thin clients can alleviate the problem of ancient and virus-infested computers,while making the setup of Internet cafes and access points in distributed wireless mesh networks less prohibitive. I will make sure to keep you updated about any upgrades to .

  2. in Malawi, the mobile phone service also can be used for internet. If you buy a (very expensive) device to plug into your PC (not your Mac), you can install software to get online. You would purchase airtime like you would for any phone to top up your airtime. The speed is slow and service is only available where mobile phone service is available. Still, I think it’s a great way to access the internet for those folks who have laptops (and in Malawi, there are quite a few).

  3. Hey Amanda, thank you for this great post.
    You did an amazing job explaining what PAYU Computing does (maybe even better myself ;)), I also liked how you started off from the cell phone revolution and connected to internet cafes.

    I will say this: we believe that cell phones, are already playing a big role in where Africa is heading, but the underlying fact is that cell phones without the internet will still leave users wanting. Our aim is to focus on how to increase access to the internet, whether through cell phones or other devices (used computers, thin clients …etc).

    Just to give an update to your readers, we are currently working with an ISP in Tanzania to offer our services to a broader geographical location; more ISP partnerships are in the roadmap. Eventually we realize that we will have to connect with the major Telcos in Tanzania as well, but that is a bit harder to get traction into.
    We are also continuously updating our software – optimizing it and making it more user friendly.

    Once again, thanks.

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