Google Lays Groundwork for Ugandan Wi-fi

Google’s Project Link brings quality internet infrastructure to Ugandan capital, Kampala.

Ugandan Wifi

Google launched their internet initiative Project Link in Uganda on Friday, bringing increased internet capacity to the capital city, Kampala. The internet access takes the form of a broadband, wireless network, according to the BBC.

This new network is now functioning in 12o strategic locations throughout Kampala.


What it does (and does not) do

Google has not brought free wireless (or even cable) internet to Uganda. It has not even brought free wi-fi to Kampala.

What Google has done is improve internet capacity in the city. They have done this through Project Link by building a “metro fiber network” in Kampala. This network includes over 800 kilometers of fiber optic cables laid in the city and its suburbs.

According to the BBC, these cables will help introduce 3G and 4G technology in the city.

They will offer the network to local ISP’s (Internet service providers), who will determine the prices they charge for access.

Google estimates place these rates at around 0.30 USD for a day’s unlimited browsing access; this rate is significantly less than current prices. However, Google is ultimately leaving service charge decisions up to the local providers it is giving the new network to.


Existing Internet in Uganda

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By United States Central Intelligence Agency [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Kampala is the urban heart of the Uganda, and the largest city in the country. The capital is not only Uganda’s administrative center, but also houses the bulk of its communications, economic, and transportation networks as well.

Internet already exists in the developed city.

According to the BBC, African media giant MTN currently provides internet access to most of the city. Google’s initiative will allow users in the city the opportunity to choose an alternate provider.

Currently, Uganda has approximately 8.5 million internet users, which represents 23% of its total population. In 2010, it had only 3.2 million internet users, which represented 9.6% of that year’s population. In 2007, only 1 million Ugandans had internet access.

Its internet use has been growing steadily, but also but slowly because of:

  • High access costs
  • Poor infrastructure, especially in rural areas
  • High cost of internet-enabled devices
  • Poor internet quality and consistency

Cybercafes provide internet access to many Ugandans, as do schools, work, and many libraries.

Smart phone usage is also on the rise in the country. Uganda ranks in the top ten African countries for its smart phone usage. In 2011, it had more than 14 million mobile phone subscribers.


Internet initiatives in Africa

Internet initiatives in developing countries (especially African ones) seem to be trending. Google’s project closely follows other net giants like Facebook, which announced in early October that it plans to use a satellite to provide internet to remote areas in Africa.

Plans like Google’s Project Link and Facebook’s satellite are necessary because internet usually requires complex networks of underground cables. These cables provide broadband internet, and the basis for wireless internet as well.

Most of Uganda, like much of Africa, does not have this underground technological infrastructure. Therefore, accessing the internet at all in rural areas is usually extremely difficult, and often impossible. According to Freedom House, in 2008, only 3% of rural areas in Uganda had internet access.

Previous initiatives have targeted rural areas in Uganda. One such project took place a decade ago. It built telecenters with computer and internet access to provide agricultural information to farmers. However, this project failed because of language barriers, and the competing speed and reliability of radio.


Global internet jargon

According to 2015  Internet World Stats, 851.6 million users of the internet speak English. For at least the last five years, English has dominated the internet.

Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 2.03.06 PM
By Eshleyy (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikipedia Commons

According to Freedom House Neither English nor Chinese are commonly spoken in Uganda, which means that a huge portion of internet content is unavailable to most users, especially in rural areas. This is also the case throughout much of Africa.

Low literacy rates in rural areas represent a further complication for internet usage.


Linking to the future

Kampala is the first city in which Project Link has gone live.

However, Google has recently expanded Project Link to Ghana, where they will “build over 1,000 kilometers of fiber in Accra, Tema, and Kumasi.”

Facebook’s satellite is due to start beaming internet to rural parts of Africa in 2016.

While critics fear potential commercial implications of letting a single massive corporation like Google or Facebook essentially control internet access for an entire country, long-term, widespread positive effects of internet access on education and economic development may ultimately outweigh the risks.