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Last Mile Internet in Developing Countries: Tekniam's Founder Andrew Heaton in Africa

The United States is obviously one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Yet, approximately 50% of the land area geographically and about 10% of our population has virtually no Internet.  Either none as in zero, or it’s very limited.


However, if you take that problem outside our borders and depending upon the country you are in, it can be anywhere from half to 90% or more of the population that doesn’t have internet.


Cell phones have brought a lot of good things to a lot of people. But in most places, cell phones are 3G that have very slow speeds in terms of the internet it can provide to their users. So broadband speeds are still far away for most of the world’s population at this point.


Depending upon which groups are putting out the estimate and which metric they use, anywhere from 50% to 80% of the world doesn’t have broadband speeds. They can’t study, they can’t do telemedicine, can’t work remote. It’s very limited economically speaking.


Tekniam’s Remote Universal Communications System (RUCS) is truly breakthrough technology that enables developing nations in Africa to cover their country with wireless broadband Internet at a fraction of the cost of previous capabilities.


Getting Broadband Internet to Developing Countries at a Fraction of the Cost


One of the largest problems facing our planet in the next couple decades that NGOs, the world bank, and our governments are spending billions of dollars on is trying to hook up the rest of the world. In addition, these countries are spending a lot of money themselves.


Tekniam’s founder Andrew Heaton has recently spent two months in an East African nation bringing high speed broadband Internet to this developing country. The country has a total population of about 13 million people, with a couple million people in their capital city that are connected with cell towers and fiber. 


What’s hard to imagine - and this country is relatively well developed compared to most in that part of the world - is their entire country of 13 million people share 10 gigabits of data.


To put that into perspective, you can get residential plans for a home in America with 10 gigabits of data. So, what you are able to buy for a household in a major market in America for maybe $150 a month they have for 13 million people, their entire country! 


They are losing vast amounts of money because people can’t work remote. They can’t do things that we take for granted like continuing education for their teachers, they can’t do telemedicine, etc.


Cost Savings of Broadband Wireless Over Fiber


This nation has spent a couple billion dollars on fiber in urban areas, but progress has been limited. In order to complete the fiber for the remainder of the country, they are most likely looking at around 20 billion dollars.


Tekniam can bring connectivity to these areas with the RUCS and cover about 90% of their country far more cost effectively, for about half a billion dollars, with broadband strength speeds. Despite being a mountainous country with hilly terrain, Tekniam can do in months what takes fiber companies a decade. 


Additionally, observe all the downstream effects that are going to happen as a result of increased connectivity. Currently, many of their teachers take decades to get up to global standards. If they can get everyone online, their teachers can come up to global standards in a couple of years. This will help better ensure they aren’t going to lose a couple generations of students between K through 12 that are not up to global standards.


In Many Ways, Broadband Connectivity Is More Important Than Roads


Once people have access to broadband Internet in developing countries and reach a certain level of proficiency online it can become a tremendous tool for economic development because now they can reach the outside world.


80% of this country is subsistence farming, which means they are making an average of about 2 dollars a day, or less.  And they have to do back breaking labor their entire life to survive.


If you are in a remote rural area, you can walk a mile to get food and supplies without a road. But if they can connect to the outside world via broadband Internet, a vast range of new economic opportunities for them opens up, like doing TURK work via


TURK work is contracted through Amazon for jobs that require human eyes to make decision computers are incapable of. For example, the computer downloads two pictures and asks is it the right one or the left one correct?  Is the blue tool in the right place here, or the right place there?


Companies contract with Amazon to do quality control, like taking pictures of all of their boxes of tools going out. If a computer can’t tell if a tool is in the right place as easily as a human can, they will pay a human living anywhere in the world 5 cents to look at a photo to tell if the tool is in the right place or not. 


TURK work via is only one example of these dramatic new economic opportunities sweeping the developing nations connecting low cost labor with quality management in industrialized nations.  Even a first level person doing TURK work starts out making anywhere from $1.50 to $11.00 dollars an hour.  Once they reach level three which usually takes a few months to a year or two, then they average $11.50 an hour plus.


So how fast your Internet goes is how many times you can make that decision in an hour that determines your income potential with this type of new information economy.


Even with the simplest remote work like TURK they can increase their income tenfold over subsistence farming by bringing highspeed broadband Internet to developing countries.  This is a dramatic leap forward for them economically by having the capability of connecting to all these people!


Educational Development


Look at education in Africa or anywhere in the world. In education you have hard education and soft education. K through 12 or university are examples of hard education. Very important, and you need a certain amount of hard education to benefit from soft education.


Soft education is what we now do all the time in the United States and we take it for granted. For example, how many times a day are you in a conversation where someone puts forth a point of view that you Google as a follow up to see if it rings true with what’s on the Internet?


Soft education is the ability to learn all the time, on the fly. It’s like continuing education for life. And continue to learn and increase your knowledge based upon your ability to access the outside world and outside data bases through the Internet.


These are major life transformative opportunities you normally wouldn’t have in a small village in the middle of a developing nation.


Beyond the economic benefits of having an educated workforce there are all kinds of hard and soft benefits that go along with that.  If you are selling a resource for example, let’s say you are mining tungsten and you want to know what the price per kilogram is, because you suspect the guy making you an offer quotes 100 a kilogram and you could access the outside world and say no its 200 a kilogram.


If he doesn’t buy at that price you can contact the outside world and say come pick it up at $180 a kilogram.  It allows you to access global markets for the best price for your goods.


A lot of these people providing these goods in Africa, whether they are farm products or they are mineral products are getting it by the sweat of their brow. They are earning this piece by piece in small quantities. Being able to reach outside markets with high speed broadband Internet in developing countries is key that allows them to form groups with the realization we get a lesser price if we sell it individually, but a better price if we sell it by the ton and get a premium.


If we can come together in a way to form a processing plant and we could do the research to find the equipment to make the processing plant, and if we sell it pure we get 50% more. Being able to have internet and access the outside world gives them these tools.


Medical Supply Delivery


On the medical side for example, there is a company that just did its initial public trails in Africa called Zipline.  Zipline is the world's largest autonomous delivery system valued at 4.2 billion specializing in on-demand drone delivery and instant logistics. 


They started out with a very small amount of money flying medical supplies between African villages. Blood for example, that people needed during an emergency that would be difficult to transport over roads in a short amount of time in areas that don’t have the best roads.


Even here in America we are seeing the value of shipping via drones. If you are in an area with no internet you can tell a drone to go to a specific GPS location and hopefully it makes it. But you have no knowledge of where it is between Point A and Point B. Which is very problematic if you are sending valuable medical supplies. 


But if you are sending medicine you’re sending something important. If you can’t track it the whole way, that’s a much riskier proposition than if you have Internet all or most or most of the way so you can constantly check in on status where your shipment is at.


Did it clear the mountain ranges it was supposed to along the way because heaven forbid you have someone bleeding out and the drone crashes and you don’t know until 45 minutes later and it didn’t arrive.


If you have notification the drone crashed you know you need to send another bag of blood immediately. And save that person’s life. Not being connected has a lot of downstream results in terms of health and safety.


Not to mention things we take for granted every day in the US like the ability to call 911. The ability to call family members and say I’m hurt. I need help. Come find me! 


All of these things are possible in a connected world. If you are in an unconnected world, your ability to connect and call for help is as far as you can shout.


With broadband connectivity you can call someone on the other side of the planet and they can help find someone locally to help find you. 


The RUCS Broadband Wireless Capability Demonstrated to Military and Police


The military and police were absolutely wowed by the RUCS!  They just take it for granted they won’t be able to connect in most situations and be forced to use two way radios only.  Even the US military, as technologically advanced as it is, says it’s very hard to find a reliable product that you can hand carry with you and take anywhere in the world.


Even Sat phones that work off satellites in high earth orbit don’t always work that well through the heavy cloud cover that covers much of the earth during different area’s rainy season.


The RUCS can be taken anywhere and gives you the ability within a ¼ mile bubble around it to connect to the outside world for whatever reason you need to connect. For the military or law enforcement in developing countries, who have taken it for granted it would be decades before they would be able to receive this kind of capability its mind blowing for them!


For all the reasons you can image many people in African police and military think a two way radio will cut it.  Well, what would happen if you need to follow someone specific. What if you need to track a cell phone.  Here in America if someone is suspected of a crime they can track their cell phone.  You can’t do that in areas where there is no internet.


What if you need to send a picture of a face your officers could look for. For someone who just committed a crime, or heaven forbid a child has been kidnapped.  You can’t do that with a two way radio. 


You can give a brief verbal description, but everyone knows those can also be more confusing to people than helpful.  Because witness testimony is not always the most accurate in moments of fear or panic.


The ability to provides the tool to provide face to face recognition, receive files, photos and information what is known about the suspect. Where they come from, where their parents live.


University Pilot Programs


At two universities we set up a RUCS pilot program. For one we did a satellite set up for the Internet source or backhaul. The other pilot program we set up from a fiber connection.


Formerly, they could only have a hardline connection. So they had to connect directly to a wall and unless they had an ethernet cable they didn’t have the ability to do that. They had a few computer plugins on site, but obviously it was massively overused because they had only two or three dozen ports for thousands of students.


Now in both of these cases, 70-80 university students would be connected and they had never been able to do that before.


You should have seen how upset they were when we came back to take the pilot equipment down.  There were government officials at the director level at the university asking to please not take it down.  The students were begging us not to pull the equipment and the government stepped in and asked us to leave it in place!


Current Bandwidth Limitations


This is a statistic that is hard to imagine for a major university in the capital city, but they had only 50 megabits of bandwidth that was supposed to power the entire university.  All of the professors, thousands of students and administrators. Everything!


It’s almost impossible for that to work.  So, the ability to put our RUCS devices there and spread a wider signal and cover dozens of students simultaneously instead of only a few that could plug into a wall was huge.


This was a dramatic change for them which is something we take for granted every day. If you can’t walk around and connect to the web and do your school work it’s like not having an extra arm and after they had it for a week when you take it away they miss it terribly!


Covering the Entire Country as an Economic Development Model


As limited as broadband Internet is in the capital city and a couple other smaller cities, once you get out into the countryside there is nothing.  Highspeed broadband Internet in developing countries gives them the ability to be on par with the rest of the world that they hadn’t dreamed could be within reach within a year.


I can’t tell you how many minister level government officials, even lower level people, who were young engineers say that this was going to change their country forever!  


Tekniam’s RUCS is changing the world in African and other developing countries delivering broadband Internet with a compact, easy to carry device that can throw a powerful signal with a remarkably low power draw at a small fraction of the cost of what has ever been possible before!


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The best last mile wireless fiber, cellular, and satellite internet solution for many rural areas and emergency disaster relief telecommunications.


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