Africa Connect, the ambitious social entrepreneurs who hook up rural communities to SMS, voice and data services, aim to connect 200 Zambian villages within 12 months.
The team, which previously rolled out mobile satellite and cellular stations across rural South Africa, have just returned from installing their first successful low tower, low power base station in rural Zambia in partnership with a mobile operator.
Speaking to HumanIPO Dion Jerling, Special Projects Director at Connect Africa, said: “Zambia is probably the best country to do this right now. It is friendly, safe and reasonably enterprising.”
Jerling announced at AfricaCom 2012 on Thursday last week, he aims to roll out 20 stations by March 2013 and 200 by the end of next year. He also plans to be expanding outside of South Africa in 12 months, with Mozambique one of the likely destinations.
The company’s strategy in Zambia is to hunt down the chieftains and get them on board, giving them a vested interest in the roll-out of connectivity. By enlisting the support of the chieftains, Jerling hopes to be provided with security, logistical and operational help.
Other than private funding from Jerling, the company was originally supported with European Union money and now hope to secure investment through the Universal Service Fund.
He added: “There are serious pots of money in the Africa Universal Service Fund and we look forward to talking to the people that manage them.”
On his own motivation for setting up Africa Connect eight years ago, Jerling said: “It was an excuse to bounce around Africa. When I came back from working in telecoms in London I thought it would be good to do something in Africa which makes a difference and is sustainable.”