The Internet Start-Up Aiming to Connect the Global South

Published 19 October 2022

2 min read

A lack of internet infrastructure has far-reaching consequences, including robbing young people of opportunities and exacerbating gender inequalities. Inaccessibility is concentrated in the Global South: in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, only 38% and 30% of people use the internet, respectively, versus 91% of North Americans (Our World in Data, 2022). Enter US start-up Ukama’s cellular network devices.

Doing its part to shrink the global digital divide, Ukama’s cellular base stations are essentially mobile internet networks “in a box”, which fit in a backpack and don’t rely on cell towers from major providers for connectivity. The devices are easy to set up and secure, as the company can’t monitor what users are doing online.

Backed by the US Trade and Development Agency, Ukama is launching a pilot project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), targeted at local entrepreneurs. The DRC has long suffered from weak infrastructure due to its large size, frequent conflicts and dense forests, making it difficult for network companies to enter the country. By using Ukama’s equipment to launch their own internet service providers, entrepreneurs in the DRC can supply their local communities with connectivity extending up to a kilometre – which means coverage for an entire village.

Contenders like SpaceX and Google have also begun tapping into the African connectivity market. After a decade of failed attempts, Google is installing massive under-sea fibre-optic cables off the continent’s coasts. Claiming inspiration from the South African philosophy of Ubuntu – which means “humanity towards others” – its $1bn investment plan promises widespread digital transformation.

We’ll continue to keep an eye on both smaller initiatives and large corporations to see who’s best equipped to solve the global internet infrastructure equation. 

Doing its part to shrink the global digital divide, Ukama’s cellular base stations are essentially mobile internet networks “in a box”, which fit in a backpack and don’t rely on cell towers from major providers for connectivity. The devices are easy to set up and secure, as the company can’t monitor what users are doing online.

Backed by the US Trade and Development Agency, Ukama is launching a pilot project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), targeted at local entrepreneurs. The DRC has long suffered from weak infrastructure due to its large size, frequent conflicts and dense forests, making it difficult for network companies to enter the country. By using Ukama’s equipment to launch their own internet service providers, entrepreneurs in the DRC can supply their local communities with connectivity extending up to a kilometre – which means coverage for an entire village.

Contenders like SpaceX and Google have also begun tapping into the African connectivity market. After a decade of failed attempts, Google is installing massive under-sea fibre-optic cables off the continent’s coasts. Claiming inspiration from the South African philosophy of Ubuntu – which means “humanity towards others” – its $1bn investment plan promises widespread digital transformation.

We’ll continue to keep an eye on both smaller initiatives and large corporations to see who’s best equipped to solve the global internet infrastructure equation. 

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This article is an example of what Stylus is constantly tracking and analysing around technology trends. Get in touch so someone from the Stylus team can explain how your business can harness the power of trends and insights like these – and more.

Want to know more?

This article is an example of what Stylus is constantly tracking and analysing around technology trends. Get in touch so someone from the Stylus team can explain how your business can harness the power of trends and insights like these – and more.