[Interview] Dirk-Jan (DJ) Koeman, Chief BDO, Poa Internet, Kenya
Give us a brief introduction about your company and what it does?
Poa Internet connects the unconnected. We improve people’s lives through unlimited internet access enabling them access to knowledge and opportunities for economic and social empowerment.
Which clients do you target with your services
For the majority of Africans Internet access is either unaffordable or unavailable. 820m Africans have no internet access. Internet availability has a huge impact on education, social inclusion, and commerce. Providing access to the unconnected communities presents a massive social and commercial opportunity. Africa is 65% rural. Of the 35% urban population, many have low incomes and live in informal settlements. The population density in rural areas and household income for many Africans simply doesn’t justify the cost of investment in fibre and 4G networks. Poa Internet is disrupting this market by using low-cost WiFi based technologies to build wireless networks in rural and low-income communities. We currently operate in several communities in and around Nairobi, Kenya. These are in both urban slums as well as rural communities. We currently provide service to over 4,000 home and SME customers and over 27,000 WiFi hotspot customers.
Since coming to Kenya a few years go, which areas have you covered? Are there plans to expand to other areas?
We started in Kibera in 2016 and expanded into Kawangware in 2017. In 2018, we deployed in peri-urban Kiambu as well as the surrounding villages, that are more rural of nature. As one of Kenya's fastest growing ISPs, poa! Internet currently operates in Kibera, Jamhuri, Kawangware, Kangemi, Kabiria, Waithaka, Racecourse, Kinoo, Dagoretti, Kikuyu, Kiambu, Ting'ang'a, Kirigiti, Ndumberi and Githunguri. Over the next period, we intend to grow and expand into other areas.
What are the ambitions of the company going forward?
Poa Internet’s vision is to provide internet access to 1 million African homes and small businesses within 5 years. This vision is bold because with an estimated average of 4 people per household it would translate to 4 million people – approximately 8% of the Kenyan population. This vision is innovative and transformative because current Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) focus on densely populated, middle-class urban areas with propositions. Our focus is on rural and low-income communities that are underserved by these existing providers, as a result, we expect to connect many of our customers to the Internet for the first time facilitating all the benefits that accrue from crossing the digital divide.
How has the market responded to your services?
Research conducted by Acumen Lean Data on behalf of CDC as well as doctorate research, funded by the European Investment Bank (EIB) demonstrates the impact on customers as well as schools and students. Some key data points from these reports include:
1. 87% of customers reported that Poa had improved their lives
2. 79% of customer listed Poa as “Good” or “Very Good” value for money
3. 67% of complaints were about the speed of service. This has since been rectified by improving speeds by 250%
4. 60% of the students in poa! schools appreciated improved internet availability and improved access to information (51%).
5. Students in schools receiving poa! internet are 29% more likely than students at non-participating schools to use internet daily and 39% more likely to report receiving internet training during school hours.
What are some of the unique selling points for your services?
Poa Internet’s solution uses low-cost WiFi based equipment. The low OPEX and CAPEX costs of this technology enables us to profitably deliver Internet connectivity at a fraction of the price of traditional fibre and 4G providers. All of our services offer unlimited data capacity. This contrasts to the limited data models common in African markets. This enables our customers to fully engage with the Internet using data-rich services such as video streaming without fear of the cost of the data they consume. In the last two years, we have proven that customers at the bottom of the economic pyramid are willing adopters of Internet access and that we have a viable delivery model.
You recently announced the completion of Kenya’s largest public wi-fi network. Tell us more about that.
The new integrated network has been made possible through poa!’s partnership with global Internet technology provider Fon, which provides access points for more than 23 million hotspots worldwide. Fon’s partnership with poa! it's first in East Africa. We realized that if we were truly going to deliver a step-change in access to the Internet in Kenya, we needed to innovate and build new business models around next-generation technology. Fon developed multi-purpose access points more than a decade ago that now dominate the Internet landscape in the West. These access points provide Internet in homes and on the streets of many developed nations. The model of home broadband plus street Wi-Fi for our customers, and unlimited internet access on the street for those who can’t afford a home connection is, we believe, transformational in commoditizing internet in these areas.
Internet use is growing across much of sub-Saharan Africa. What’s your contribution in this growth?
According to the latest report of the Communications Authority, we have a market share of approximately 7.5% in Kenya. Our intention in the next 5 years is to expand into several countries. We focus on an underserved segment and are bridging the digital divide for these marginalized communities.
With countries like Kenya having so many ISPs, what’s the biggest threat or challenge to your business?
We believe the market is big enough and there is room for several players, as they all serve a certain segment, as long as there is a level playing field. We see a complementarity to the mobile network operators, as their model is quite different from ours.
What is the latest news from your company?
Poa! Internet has more than doubled its coverage areas and speeds in the last half year and has announced that it will be adding over 30 new area networks in the first half of 2019.
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