Blu Network technology and its founder and CTO, Professor Mike Santer, are featured in a new Wired article by Matt Reynolds – Facebook and Google’s race to connect the world is heating up.
The article documents how big tech firms are battling to connect the half of the world’s population who don’t have internet access and reap the vast rewards that this could unlock, through the use of helium-filled balloons or drones or other high altitude delivery systems. However, it also questions whether these solutions might not be best for the people that they’re trying to help.
Mike Santer argues that, even for Facebook and Google, providing internet to half of the world is no easy feat. “There are all sorts of top down approaches,” he says, “that work on the assumption that if you provide a WiFi connection, people will be able to get online. This would be fine if everyone in the developing world had a smartphone, but they don’t. I think it’s completely inappropriate for much of Sub-Saharan Africa, and also much of India and other emerging markets.” In Zambia 72 per cent of people have old-fashioned feature phones instead of smartphones and in India and Sub-Saharan Africa shipments of feature phones are increasing while smartphone shipments are slowing down.
Blu Network was founded to address this reality and has developed a solution for the devices that people in the developing world are using. Blu Network sets up hubs that allow people to access pre-loaded updateable information through BlueTooth, FM Radio or WiFi, without any data costs to the end user. “That means that really low end phones can still access online content,” Santer says. The system has been used to provide people in Ethiopia with information about healthcare and sustainable forest management and in Mwandi District in Zambia the Blu Network hub is updated daily with news, sports and agricultural information.
While Santer is a supporter of projects like Google’s Loon, he argues that western companies need to show more awareness that what works for them doesn’t always translate to the developing world. “We have got to wrestle and be really sensitive about the notion of digital imperialism,” he says. A better approach, he says, would be for big tech firms to partner with local agencies that know the needs of local communities.
Learn more about Blu Network’s mission in Africa:
- Extending reach and quality in educational training
- Blu Network technology helps WSV support entrepreneurs and NGOs build sustainable communities in Africa
- Canon utilise Blu Network technology to establish careers in Africa
- Stories: Geluksburg
- Why young Africans need access to healthcare information
- Transformational technology and innovation in Africa
- Improving attendance with technology
- Improving lives with technology
- Durban school principal excited about Blu Network technology