As an entrepreneur I have found that if you draw up a business plan that requires KSh. x, go and source for KSh. 5x, you're likely to get KSh. 0.5x. It's a truth I've come to accept, financiers will never give you what you ask for. After some time I found this was actually a good thing, as the entrepreneur in you goes overdrive figuring how to still accomplish your task with minimum resources. You'd think then that I would have no problem with the 300k budget my friend gave me, eh? Well this was actually like 0.2x so I had to employ all strategies to get the project off the ground with the limited funds.
Before I could commit to the project (and the money) I had to make sure that I could get internet to the cyber quickly and inexpensively. I went shopping for an ISP in Nakuru and what I found was mostly disappointing.
1. Jambo Dial-up. This would involve installing a telephone line and using the Jambo service from Telkom. The cost per minute would be equivalent to making local calls. Local calls are approximately 7.50/= a minute (USD 6.40 per hour). This was immediately ruled out.
2. Telkom ADSL. The ADSL service has a fixed monthly cost starting from approximately Ksh. 10,000 (USD. 143). However ADSL can only work over a distance of 4 kilometer radius and Njoro is at least 25 km from the Nakuru ADSL service.
3. Wananchi leased line. This would involve pulling an analogue Telkom kenstream line from Nakuru and providing 32Mbps internet over it. The initial cost was 150,000 (USD 2,143) and subsequent costs would be 30,000 (USD 429) per month. This was too expensive and the benefits (speed of the internet) too low.
As a last ditch effort I decided to explore the mobile phone internet option. Celtel and Safaricom had recently been touting their EDGE technology (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution. A technology that gives GSM networks similar capacity to handle services for the third generation of mobile telephony. EDGE was developed to enable the transmission of large amounts of data at a high speed, 384 kilobits per second.) as a convenient way to access the internet from anywhere. On the face of it, it looked like something I could consider but I was not putting my hopes too high as it was advertised as a high-end market product for personal use.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that what Safaricom and Celtel advertised was a gross understatement of the power of EDGE. The technology was just what I was looking for: it was easy to setup, it was instantly available in Njoro , it did not have inhibitive setup costs, and its running cost would allow me to charge affordable rates at the cyber. I couldn't believe that these firms had such powerful technology that they were not shouting about at the top of their voices.
As an aside I was astounded at the lack of technical/marketing knowledge the firms' personnel displayed regarding using the EDGE technology for my specific use. I thought the lack of knowledge might be local (Nakuru) but on speaking to their representatives in Nairobi I was surprised that the lack of knowledge persisted even there. Just as the internet initially found its way into people's homes through the ubiquitous fixed line telephone network in the US, I think the mobile phone network can be what accelerates internet penetration in Kenya. Celtel and Safaricom need to wake-up.
After comparing the two firms I settled on Celtel based on cost, coverage and network reliability. Immediately after purchase I tested out the service with my laptop and was impressed at the consistency and quality of the internet service. I would have to wait until the whole cyber was up and running before I knew whether I was right or the Celtel people would be telling me "I told you so". Read about what happened when I hooked up all the machines to the internet in my next post.