Last night at the annual AfricaCom awards in Cape Town, Liquid Telecom and the Office of the President (Kenya) picked up the award in the Changing Lives category for providing free WiFi to homes and businesses in Nakuru County, Kenya.
This special award recognises an inspiring initiative that has significantly impacted African communications in the community and contributed to economic and social development. It was the most hotly contested category of the night with the work of ten companies shortlisted including Ericsson, Orange and WIOCC.
The Nakuru WiFi project is the first of its kind in Kenya, and sees Nakuru join Kigali in Rwanda and Tshwane in South Africa as the first major urban centres in Africa to enjoy access to free public WiFi.
Launched in April 2015 and named "BILAWAYA" (Swahili slang meaning "WIRELESS"), the wifi network covers a 10-kilometre radius from the CBD, with a capacity of 1 Giga byte per second (gbps). It is available in major streets, markets, transport terminus and stadia - as well as the university campuses.
BILAWAYA provides people with WiFi-enabled devices free access to the Internet (with the exception of unlawful activities such as streaming or downloading of offensive content or content that violates copyright). In addition, a portal has been created to provide a wealth of valuable and practical advice for Internet novices, as well as the more experienced.
The hugely positive response to the free WiFi network has triggered demand for WiFi services across Kenya; Liquid has already been approached by five other County Governments to implement a similar solution after hearing of the success and popularity of Bilawaya.
Meanwhile the Nakuru County Government has already been asked to extend the network to other areas within the County to meet demand. Plans are at an advanced stage to connect Naivasha and Gilgil towns as well as Egerton University in Njoro and more streets and public areas in Nakuru town.
Dennis Itumbi, Director of Digital Communications in the Office of the President of The Republic of Kenya, said "This network is a first for our country and has far exceeded our expectations. Every day I see how it is changing lives for the better. Our people are hungry for digital access and all the knowledge that brings. We will be extending the network to the second and third biggest towns in Nakuru County - and indeed to other Counties - very shortly."
Ben Roberts, CEO of Liquid Telecom Kenya, said "Congratulations to the President and all of his team who spearheaded the Bilawaya project in Nakuru. Every day we see for ourselves how it is Changing Lives."
Nakuru is a small market town with a population of 307,000. Farming is the main industry and unemployment is high. Migration to Nairobi is high.
For Job seekers: Bilawaya opens up a world of job and learning opportunities, especially for young people. Through www.nakuruwifi.com, users can access a huge range of jobs from skilled positions like teaching to unskilled work like data input/ admin. All they need to get started is a bank account (most online work pays by international transfer directly) and an email address - which they can create in a few minutes online.
For business people: Bilawaya is accelerating Nakuru's business growth and enabling its gradual evolution towards an information economy. The portal complements this through increased access to marketplaces, customers, training, staff and resources - as well as access to useful services, from accounting to marketing.
For families: Bilawaya provides access to a wide range of information services - the portal alone provides advice on medications, free learning and books for children, as well as were to buy everything from electronics to clothing online.
For farmers: Farmers now have access to online tools that can increase their yields and income helping them with farm management, providing discounts on seeds, providing diagnosis on plant diseases and calculation of the ROI on irrigation projects and others. These tools are listed on the Nakuru WiFi website.
For students: JKUAT Nakuru Campus and Mount Kenya University are using Bilawaya. Students can research different academic institutions and courses around the world and apply for funding and scholarships. They can use the service to access study aides and resources ranging from online libraries to document storage and formatting and data collection and collation. They can even enroll for international student work programs.
Bilawaya also enables e-learning - which increases information retention among students by up to 60 per cent, according to the Research Institute of America.