Kenyan low-cost ISP Poa Internet secures $28 million in round led by AfDB-backed Africa50, plans to link region with cheap, limit-free connectivity

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When it came time to find affordable and reliable solutions for last-mile internet connectivity across Africa, Africa50, an infrastructure financier backed by the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group and several African governments, hosted an innovation challenge in 2020. The challenge sought affordable and reliable solutions for last-mile internet connectivity across the continent. Consequently, Poa Internet, a Kenyan business, beat 673 other proposals from across the globe. As a result, it was included in Africa50’s investment pipeline in addition to receiving a monetary reward.

It has secured a total of $36 million in investment too far, somewhat more than one year after winning the competition. The fundraising round was sponsored by Africa50 and saw the internet service provider (ISP) get $28 million. Novastar Ventures, one of the firm’s original supporters, was also a participant in the most recent round of funding.

Poa intends to use the new funding to expand its reach, starting with Kenya and then gradually expanding to other countries on the continent as funds become available.

“At the moment, we are concentrating on Kenya, but the issue we are attempting to solve affects the whole continent.” And for us, it’s not simply about providing people with access to the internet. In an interview with TechCrunch, Andy Halsall, co-founder and CEO of Poa Internet, said, “Our goal is to get as many people online as possible and to provide them with meaningful internet experiences, such as the ability to stream videos, without having to worry about how much data they’re consuming.”

More than 12,000 clients (homes and small enterprises) in Nairobi’s low and middle-income districts are being served by Poa Internet, with tens of thousands more connected to the internet via its street Wi-Fi connections. The firm has built its fiber network in areas usually not the first choice for rivals such as Safaricom Home, owned by East Africa’s largest telecom Safaricom, Faiba, owned by Jamii Telecommunication Limited Zuku, among others.

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Customer service at Poa Internet is provided at approximately $13, which is less than half the market rate, giving it a competitive advantage. In addition, it offers its clients unlimited data consumption, which is another feature that makes its goods appealing to internet users in a nation where big ISPs provide monthly subscription packages with data restrictions.

In addition, the startup has set up Wi-Fi hotspots in public areas, where users can pay about $0.18 for 1 GB of data, which is ten times less expensive than the rates charged by the country’s telcos for a similar bundle of non-expiring internet service.

To accommodate everyone’s need to stream Netflix and utilize YouTube while also downloading movies and making video chats, our internet speeds are 4mbps, which is plenty for video. To do this, we’ve engineered our service to be as quick as possible to send video, but most importantly, our pricing is a competitive advantage,” said Halsall.

Our fundamental goal is getting the price as low as feasible while also operating in places that do not have fiber access or are unlikely to obtain fiber. Due to our focus on a market segment that is underserved, we will not be competing against anybody in the traditional sense.”

In Africa, affordability is one of the most significant barriers to internet access, and Poa Internet service, launched in Kenya in 2015, has been working to overcome this challenge.

More specifically, sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s most costly internet pricing, which has a detrimental influence on the continent’s capacity to expand its digital industries and respond to circumstances such as the Covid epidemic, which is now underway. Most people were required to work from home as part of the pandemic’s containment measures, and students were required to continue their education online — but this was impractical in most countries across the continent due to a lack of necessary gadgets and internet connectivity, which was partly due to underdeveloped infrastructure and pricing.

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Affordably priced data and a more connected continent have enormous implications in that as more people get connected, industries such as e-commerce and e-learning will see significant growth.

According to the mobile economy study published by the 2021 GSM Association, an industry association representing mobile carriers, there were 303 million users connected to the mobile internet in the world, which is less than a third of the total population. By 2025, it is predicted to have increased to around 40% of the total population of the United States. However, as Halsall pointed out previously, although mobile internet plays a vital role in connecting people to the internet, the experience of restricted access is incomparable to the freedom that comes with a limitless connection.

It is important to note that POA has played an essential role in bridging the gap in last-mile connection demands and that their ultra-low-cost solutions may be leveraged to close substantial connectivity gaps in Kenya and across Africa as a whole.” According to Raza Hasnani, general director of Africa50 and head of infrastructure investments, “this is especially vital at a time when society and economic activities are quickly getting digitized as a consequence of the COVID-19 epidemic.”

In addition to the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), Bank Al-Maghrib (the Central Bank of the Kingdom of Morocco), and 28 African nations, Africa50 presently has 31 shareholders.

In addition, “Increasing access to dependable and inexpensive internet connection is firmly connected with the main pillars of Africa50’s strategy,” added Hasnani. “We are thrilled to be a part of this high-impact journey and to help Poa’s expansion in Africa.”

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