Congolese inventor Nzola Swasisa has developed a device that reduces the cost of Internet data for e-mails to a fraction of its price in rural Africa.
Swasisa says the device, which he calls the “Lokole,” functions as a modem, connecting up to 100 users within a 25-meter radius and creating a local wifi network when plugged in to a power source.
The Lokole works by compressing the byte size of e-mails to reduce data consumption. It also schedules the uploads and downloads of e-mails to a time when data bundles are at their cheapest, making the cost up to 100-times cheaper than it would be over regular cellular networks.
Also unlike some other e-mail platforms that require data to load in a browser, the Lokole interface can be accessed offline.
According to How We Made It In Africa, for users, they are instantly navigated to the Lokole e-mail application, where they can sign up for an e-mail address and start e-mailing.
The connectivity and cost savings is a welcome relief in many parts of rural Africa, where more than half of the population live on $1.15 a day and 1MB costs about $0.60.
Data vs. Food
“Why would anyone spend half their money on data when they could buy food?” Swasisa wondered.
That question prompted him to begin working on a low-cost e-mail solution in 2010 while living in Canada, and after a few design prototypes, he came up with the Lokole that could cost users as little as $0.01/person/day.
Swasisa, a communications technician, said he first got the idea for the Lokole when he worked for NGOs installing telecom infrastructure in remote parts of Africa.
“During that time I saw both the beauty and need of communications,” Swasisa recalls.
For example, in his native Congo, 35 to 40 percent of the population own cell phones but only 3.8 percent of them are Internet users, and according to Swasisa, the gap is largely due to the cost of Internet data.
Swasisa says he hopes the solutions provided by the Lokole will close that gap and catch on with traders and small business owners in rural areas across Africa. He says NGOs and government agencies can also utilize the device to run hospitals, rural clinics, and schools in underserved areas.
In recognition of his work, Swasisa was shortlisted for the 10 finalists nominated for the 2017 Innovation Prize for Africa.