The workshop is the 3nd planned workshop by the network project, Wireless Africa. This event was a specifically capacity building workshop to help develop business cases for chosen country entrepreneurs and improve practical hands-on wireless network applications for technicians in each Africa project. The intent is that this group learning would lead to collaboration and lessons learned among country members as they attempt to improve their current rural telecommunications infrastructure practices and thus develop more sustainable(and possibly expandable) business models within their community networks.
Wireless Africa can offer leadership in linking the research of all ten cases of isolated rural community wireless networks. At the workshop, participants were asked to understand the need for their work to engage in policy implications on telecommunications, to improve their knowledge on other value-added applications for wireless networks, and to advance business practices through use of demand side studies and accounting templates. The process in which these networks change the way they operate need to be well documented and brought together so that mistakes are not replicated and instead solved as a collaborative group of like-minded social entrepreneurs or technicians as is the hope of Wireless Africa.
For policy and practice, Alison Gillwald (IDRC project: #103114) from Research ICT Africa! (RIA!) was asked to present their recent 2007 Household Survey results as well as ensure the RIA! researchers contact Wireless Africa researchers to improve policy dialogue. Wireless Africa also asked African network for Localization (Anloc) research network leader, Dwayne Bailey (IDRC Project # 104475), to link localization researchers to Wireless Africa researchers to ensure African local languages are also utilized within the projects. Steve Song from Shuttleworth Foundation and Toni Eliasz & Rudi von Staden from Ungana Afrika presented their business cases of ongoing projects called the Village Telco and feasibility business study in Eastern Cape respectively. These informative presentations were an indication of the need to share and collaborate between other ICT research networks as well as ongoing projects within the continent.
Technical side: Alberto, Louise, and Sebastian have been long-standing wireless networking trainers with ICT4D – IDRC worldwide. They once again helped our technical strand to improve their knowledge of open-source applications and devices which can be used to improve the teams’ community wireless networks in terms of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), billing tools, bandwidth management and updated mesh-setups. Their technical manuals and open source applications are well-documented (some on website) and provided to each participant on DVD.
Business side: All 10 African teams walked away with a draft business case template as well as their first attempt to “sell” their team’s idea under an “elevator speech” – short concise three minute presentations about their community wireless network. During the workshop, teams received constructive criticism on their ideas of micro-services and whether their plans would reach any profit or worthwhile investment from future interested parties. Katherine and Xolani from Ninjani helped to build the survey methodology called card sorting to help gather data on their client’s needs for wireless communications and possible micro-services to be offered by the African team. Teams are to email their draft business plan to Uys by December 15, 2008. After feedback, teams will send their final copy by January 15, 2009. All in all, the workshop was a good mix of theory and hands on participation.
Finally, the beginning formation of a Wireless Africa Alliance started to take shape during the workshop. Kafui (Ghana), Houda and Jamal (Morocco), Muroro (Zimbabwe) and Ochuko (Nigeria) volunteered to be the first temporary steering committee to further develop the role and mandate of an alliance in improving telecommunications infrastructure policy, practice and learning dissemination. The Wireless Africa organizing team (or consortium) agreed to support the WAA’s work.