Google partners to provide cheap, Wi-Fi service in Nairobi

Wazi Wi-Fi to provide low-cost, high-speed Internet access in developing markets

A partnership between Google and an Internet service provider in eastern Africa on Tuesday launched Wazi Wi-Fi, a high-speed wireless broadband network in Nairobi, Kenya.

Google and ISP Wananchi Group are using wireless data management services from Aptilo Networks, which operates billing and access control systems for wireless networks in 50 countries, according to a statement from Aptilo.

Aptilo said it will provide cloud-based service management and policy controls for Wazi Wi-Fi.

Wazi is intended to provide low-cost, high-speed Internet access in developing markets. Google has provided and will continue to provide assistance for the project, but financial details were not released.

Wananchi is also seeking more local business partners in the region, according to Wananchi Group CEO Richard Bell.

The network is already providing affordable high-speed Internet access at Nairobi's Junction Shopping Mall area. The service is free for the first 10 minutes of use per day on a single device and costs 50 Kenyan shillings (about 54 cents U.S.) for a one-day pass or 500 Kenyan shillings (about $5.40 U.S.) for a one-month pass per device.

Customers pay for the service online via credit card or local money transfer services. One such service is Pesapal, which is similar to PayPal. The other services are M-PESA, a money transfer system for cell phones, and Airtel Money.

Bell said there are big opportunities for Wananchi Group in the market for unmetered Wi-Fi data service for users who are away from home. "The African region has always been ahead with mobile data services, and the rapid uptake of newer affordable smartphones and tablets keeps driving up the demand for data capacity on the move," Bell said in a statement.

Euan Guttridge, Google's technical program manager for emerging markets in sub-Saharan Africa, said in a statement that Wazi Wi-Fi is part of Google's broader goal in Africa, which he said is "to get more users online, to reduce Internet access barriers and to develop a vibrant Internet environment."

"Bit by bit," he added, "the Web in Africa is helping to transform communications and open up new economic opportunities."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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