A free public Wi-Fi initiative built by Liquid Telecom in partnership with the Office of the President in Kenya was named as the Best 'Connecting the Unconnected' Initiative in the world at the Global Telecoms Awards held in London on Thursday night.
The Nakuru BilaWaya initiative covers a 10-kilometre radius from the town's Central Business District and is built around strategic points accessed by the highest proportions of the town's population. The network sees about 300 concurrent users enjoying the service every day.
With 51 nodes installed, the network serves users in the streets and open public areas such as stadia and parks. The nodes are concentrated along Kenyatta Avenue, Geoffrey Kamau Road, Top Market, the main bus terminus in the CBD, Afraha Stadium, the county headquarters, Nyayo Gardens and the Westside Mall. Academic institutions in Nakuru also enjoy the free, outdoor, Wi-Fi access, among them JKUAT Nakuru Campus and Mount Kenya University.
Now entering its fourth year, the Global Telecoms Awards shine a spotlight on the industry's most innovative companies and recognise innovation and excellence across the board. The jury comprises of independent and highly respected analysts, as well as industry heavyweights, with each category hotly contested by projects entered by vendors and operators from around the world.
The free Wi-Fi has enabled rapid access to information that is vital for economic growth and has increased the use of e-learning tools in the city.
The WiFi has, for example, given farmers access to online tools that can increase their yields and income helping them with farm management, providing discounts on seeds, providing diagnoses on plant diseases and calculation of the ROI on irrigation projects and others.
"Whether you are a farmer, student or engineer, the Internet nowadays is something you can rely on. Residents of Nakuru have benefited so much because of this Wi-Fi because they now have information, which is power," said Leonard Kirui, Nakuru County ICT Chief Officer.
A portal – BilaWaya - has also been created to provide a wealth of valuable and practical advice for Internet novices, as well as more experienced users.
Local businesses have seen increased traffic as well, as people visit their establishments to take advantage of the free internet access.
Liquid Telecom's BilaWaya has really helped us to improve our business. We get lots of customers and most of the time they come because of the free Wi-Fi. I would serve about 90 customers per day, but nowadays, since the introduction of the free Wi-Fi, we are serving more than 200 customers. We usually reach our clients through our Facebook page and on WhatsApp Cecilia Gichuki, Yummies Restaurant Manager.
The BilaWaya initiative has emerged as one of the most successful in Africa, winning an award from The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) in the Best Wi-Fi Deployment to Connect the Unconnected in a Rural Environment category during the World Wi-Fi Day on 20 June this year. Last year, Liquid Telecom and the Office of the President (Kenya) won the Changing Lives category at the AfricaCom awards for the project.
"The success, recognition and hugely positive response to BilaWaya has triggered demand for similar services elsewhere in Kenya. We have already been approached by five other county governments to implement a similar solution," said Ben Roberts, Liquid Telecom Kenya CEO.
The Internet service provider recently signed a three-year partnership with Kiambu County government that will see residents enjoy free wireless Internet in designated areas in the county.