Safaricom, WiMAX and internet for the whole of Kenya?

OneCom (which is 51% owned by Safaricom) has just signed a deal that could see universal internet access come to Kenya in the form of WiMAX. (Read the full story over at Kikulacho)

But what is WiMAX, what can it do? According to HowStuffWorks,” WiMAX has the potential to do to broadband Internet access what cell phones have done to phone access. In the same way that many people have given up their “land lines” in favor of cell phones, WiMAX could replace cable and DSL services, providing universal Internet access just about anywhere you go. WiMAX will also be as painless as WiFi — turning your computer on will automatically connect you to the closest available WiMAX antenna“. 

So what does this mean for the average Kenyan?  Well WiMAX is a technology that has had a lot of hype associated with it and not for no good reason: On the surface, WiMAX seems an arrestingly good idea. It’s a wireless broadband technology that can link to homes as a competitor to wireline, it’s good for mobile and portable data at high speeds, you can make voice calls on it, the range is up to about 20 miles … what else could you want? The problem is that the benefits of WiMAX aren’t free; you have to establish a business framework in which the limitations of WiMAX, which are the limits of any wireless broadband technology, don’t stall deployment and success.(Read)

The reality, though, is There is no way that WiMAX can be competitive to wireline broadband where the latter can be economically deployed. Sure, there are second- and third-world applications of WiMAX where very low population density means the number of people per cell will be low, and where wireline services aren’t available. There are likely similar rural opportunity examples in industrial nations, including the U.S. But WiMAX isn’t going to cover the city of San Francisco with twenty-odd cells and generate a service experience that will keep Clearwire and WiMAX credible if the standard of performance is to be as good as wireline.The value of WiMAX has to be in doing something it can do uniquely well, not doing something that other wireline technologies do better.(Read)

Still, many of the limitations of WiMAX become apparent only in heavily populated regions where the newtork is put under strain. Here in Kenya, there are large regions where the number of internet users is sufficiently low to make WiMAX’s adoption smooth and easy.

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