Facebook Seeks to Increase Connectivity in Africa

By Rebecca Wanjiku

Facebook is hoping to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Vision Process to inform network roll out, enhancement and investment in connectivity in Africa.

At the Open Cellular meeting held in Nairobi on June 19th and 20th, Facebook outlined preliminary details it had been able to establish through its use of AI and satellite imaging. Satellite imagery will help map electrical grid data, which can help build micro solar grids for the organizations interested in the area.

The project, done in conjunction with Columbia University, seeks to use the massive data Facebook has to determine human settlement, population density, type of connectivity used (2G, 3G, 4G,), distance from the nearest tower, power grid and to a larger extent the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) if factors are combined and analysed. The project is being carried out in 27 countries and Kenya is among the pilot countries.

Facebook hopes to make this data available to network providers, who can use it to determine and plan for network roll out, upgrades and enhancement. It will also give a better idea on the percentage of people connected, gaps and how best to cover them. Facebook is working with the Open Street Map team to establish how far people are from the nearest coverage and integrating the data.

“Providing this kind of information and visuals will help operators in enabling network upgrades; they can know the signal strength, timing of when people use the network, if users have 4G enabled phones, which can inform infrastructure planning,” said Ashish Kelkar, Senior Director, Infrastructure Strategy and Operations Analytics, Facebook.

Disaster response is one of the areas the data might be critical; allowing humanitarian agencies to respond and provide the appropriate assistance. Facebook is working with the United Nations agencies and with the World Bank in Malawi to help in the fiber backbone project.

Facebook is collaboration partners with in testing data sets and is interested in incorporating other partners that may be interested.

Regarding Open Cellular meeting, policy makers, techies and business people gathered at the iHub Nairobi to discuss ways to invest and run businesses focussing on rural areas.

The presentations and discussions focussed on entrepreneurship, the changing face on access, building open ecosystem for rural connectivity, connectivity and UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), using big data to connect the unconnected, and creating opportunities for deployment among other topics.

There was a technical track, focussing on building wireless access platform, optimized access solutions for small communities, community cellular manager and building open source power solution for rural communities. The business track explored factors affecting businesses and opportunities in rural areas, building mobile applications for a bandwidth and device constrained world, regulatory opportunities for rural areas, scaling non traditional wireless networks and rural deployment strategies among other topics.

The meeting attracted global technology players such as; Telecom Infrastructure project, GSMA, Brck, USAID, Cavium and Nuran Wireless among others.