The US government’s development finance institution, Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), has signed a mandate letter to begin financing discussions with Kenya’s Mawingu Networks (Mawingu)
Mawingu combines solar power technology with TV white space, microwaves and a network of solar-powered ‘nomadic’ wireless Internet stations to provide last-mile connectivity to rural areas that cannot otherwise access the Internet.
Elizabeth Littlefield, president of OPIC, said, “By leveraging technology and ingenuity, Mawingu’s massive reach to connect rural African communities to the Internet is just beginning, and I look forward to the growth and scalability of this model that OPIC financing can unlock.”
OPIC has been encouraged by Mawingu’s initial pilot operations and is considering a US$4mn loan that would allow for commercial expansion of the company’s operations. Mawingu uses Microsoft’s existing technology of TV white spaces connectivity for off-grid Internet access.
“Mawingu was the first of the six TV white space pilots Microsoft has deployed in Africa in collaboration with partners, making Africa a leader in TV white spaces. It is now time to work with both local and global partners such as OPIC to go commercial and scale to impact not just thousands, but millions of lives across Africa,” said Antony Cook, head of legal and corporate affairs for Middle East and Africa at Microsoft.
Mawingu was able to establish its current operating model using an initial grant from Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), an investment from angel investor Jim Forster, and early funding from Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc.
Lauren Kickham, Vulcan Inc.’s head of Africa entrepreneurship programme, said, “We are pleased that our investment in Mawingu will help drive resiliency in African communities. Through our pilots and partnerships, we will de-risk and catalyse growth of new businesses.”
“The support from OPIC will really help us deliver on the potential of this opportunity to help connect millions of Kenyans to the Internet for the first time,” said Tim Hobbs, director at Mawingu.