Google Launches Wifi Project to Ramp up Broadband Access in Kampala

By Ashnah Kalemera |

Two years since launching a project to provide high quality broadband through shared fibre infrastructure in Uganda, Google has now officially launched the WiFi based Project Link in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

The internet giant has set up WiFi radios and supporting infrastructure at 120 locations within the city to provide citizens and small media businesses (SMEs) with high speed, affordable and reliable internet services “on the go” and at home.

The initiative aims to help local providers access high-capacity networks at a lower cost due to the opportunity to share infrastructure rather than construct their own. In partnership with the Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) and property services companies among others, Project Link WiFi services are available at shopping malls, sports grounds, apartment complexes and office blocks.

“Google built the network and access points. We operate and monitor it,” said Ela Beres, a Google official. The ISPs and MNOs participating in the project are responsible for the quality of service, determining pricing and providing support to end users.

As at June 2015, Uganda had 36 licensed public service providers for voice and data services. Internet penetration stood at 37% and telephone penetration at 64%. In 2014, the country was ranked 15 out of 51 countries surveyed in the global internet affordability index. The index measures the affordability of internet access in each country as influenced by the extent of infrastructure deployment, adoption rates and existing policy and legislative frameworks.

According to Suzan Kitariko, Google Uganda Country Manager, since its launch in November 2013, Project Link has seen the laying of 800 kms of broadband fibre in Kampala and the surrounding areas of Entebbe and Mukono. This has enabled 13 local ISPs and mobile network operators to provide high quality broadband to an estimated two million people.

“Google Infrastructure has allowed us to focus on our core competences and cut on capital expenditure, thus reducing costs to benefit the consumer,” said Roger Sekaziga of Roke Telkom, one of the project’s partners. Roke Telkom has deployed unlimited Wifi spots at select restaurants and bars at speeds of up to 1mbs for UGX 18,000 (US$ 5) per month or UGX 1,000 (US$ 0.30) per day.

Speaking at the launch which was held at the Protea Hotel on December 3, Uganda’s Minister of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) John Nasasira said improved access to reliable and affordable broadband connectivity had the potential to positively impact Uganda’s health, education, agriculture and business sectors. He added that it would also contribute to government-citizen engagement. Nasasira called for more public-private partnerships in telecommunications infrastructure development to “boost uptake and narrow the digital divide in the country.”

Meanwhile, leveraging on Project Link, panoramic views of tourist and leisure sites in Kampala are now available via Street View. Work is underway to extend coverage to national parks. Project Link is also supporting the regulator, Uganda Telecommunications Commission and KCCA to draft guidelines for infrastructure sharing for all licensed operators.

Over the coming months, Project Link is expected to expand WiFi access to 300 other locations across the country. Since launching its first metro-fibre network in Kampala in 2013, Project Link has expanded to Ghana in West Africa, where it expects to build 1,000 kms of metro fibre.

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