How Nigeria’s ‘Pure Water’ for Internet Services, Fiam WiFi is Leading the Emergence of Outdoor WiFi for High-Density Low-Income Areas
In September last year, my quest for topics on my column, Street Tech led me to Ajegunle where I discovered a most unique internet service provider, Fiam WiFi. This internet company which was just starting out at the time, was unique because it aimed to provide very fast and very affordable internet to people living in low-income areas. In essence, it aimed to become the pure water of internet services.
10 months down the line, I decided to visit Ajegunle, the low-income area the service first launched to ascertain progress, and because people-friendly projects like this face the huge possibility of sudden death in Nigeria, whether this lofty idea is still on course.
Well, Fiam WiFi is not just alive, it is also doing excellently well. Not only has the company adopted unique strategies to ensure it reaches more people in these communities, it is quickly becoming a darling in the areas its hotspots have been installed. So, without further ado, let me tell you the things I found out that indicated huge progress.
Fiam WiFi’s strategy hinges on its ability to be ubiquitous. From its sales agents to its sales points, its orange and blue colours are unmissable. Its sales points are usually located around the strategic locations its hotspots are mounted.
These locations include major business centres with owners who use the network and had given their shops facelifts to reflect their new collaborators. There are also open street bars that have become very popular in low-income areas of Lagos as well as prominent betting shops in the areas. In these places you’d find a hotspot as well as a salesperson.
I contacted the Head of Marketing, Joseph Ohamesi to find out how many hotspots have been installed in the last 10 months. He told me the company has been able to install 25 hotspots.
“And this is a huge feat if you consider the effort we put into getting each site up and running,” he said. “We also intend to roll out another 25 hotspots in another couple of months, hopefully by the end of this quarter. We are looking at having at least 300 WiFi hotspot in Ajegunle.”
Fiam WiFi also has a unique pricing mechanism which makes its service affordable. There is a fixed price of N400 for 1 gigabyte of data, a price which Joseph says is in tandem with the NCC approved price.
He also said the company has sought and is awaiting approval from The Nigerian Communications Commission to slash its own price by 50%, where a gigabyte of data will now cost N200, 5 gigs for N300 and 10 gigs for N800. Joseph said these plans are set so as to provide affordable internet to people living in these areas.
Talking about validity and expiry date of the bundles, Head of Corporate Communications, Benneth Ebere said the network has no validity or expiration date. She said the bundles have an uncap period in terms of usage.
“Anytime they buy our data, they always have access to our hotspot until they exhaust the bundle. So, there is really no expiry date. This means they can always return to the hotspot whenever they want,” she told me.
The first time I reviewed this network there were quite some glitches on it. The initial connection was easy but along the line, the network started fluctuating. At the time, unforeseen technical difficulties were a major reason for it. Heavy usage of the new service was also a limitation as it was free then.
Adekunle, the owner of one of the business centres using Fiam WiFi said all the fluctuation and disappearing network ended at the start of the new year. According to him, there used to be some problems when he started using the service but the company appeared to have fixed them.
“Even as it is raining now, the network is still working,” he told me. “All this rain and heavy wind that has been blowing, even when other people don’t have network, I normally have. So, I always tell them to buy Fiam WiFi because it is what I’m using.”
From my own personal experience, the network appears to be working pretty well. I was logged on to it for the more than 2 hours I was around the area and didn’t experience a glitch except when I ran out of 1 gig after some heavy downloads and had to purchase another gig. The download speed is also pretty fast. Maybe not the fastest but it’s still within the region of HSDP.
The technical guys at Fiam WiFi said the network has an upload and download speed of 100mbps. This is quite high for an outdoor WiFi. If the company really wants to disrupt internet availability in the country, the quality needs to be up there. And that seems to be the case so far.
They also told me Vodacom is their new network provider after they moved from their previous provider which was used the last time I was around. This switch seems to have a major impact as the internet speed has improved massively.
Delighted Young Users
Innovation is nothing if the people it was meant for don’t think it is worthwhile. With this in mind, I decided to seek out if the service has a considerable user-base in the communities and what the users think about the service.
My first observation is that the strategy of adopting popular business centres is quite productive. Outside these business centres, several young men could be found engaging their phones. It turned out they were surfing the net on the FiamWiFi network.
“I normally come here to browse with this network,” Fatai told me. “I just buy one gig for N400 and use it to download videos and movies online. It saves me the cost of using my normal internet.”
Another user, Dorathy, says she uses the WiFi whenever she needs to upload her wares and do business online. “You know this our eCommerce you have to always be online to upload your pictures and videos. I sell clothes, shoes and perfumes online on Facebook and Instagram and I always need data to advertise my market online. Whenever I buy data for N400 to upload all my stuff, it just feels like I paid N400 for advertising. It feels good.”
Another user, Nnanna says whenever he wants to watch videos on YouTube, he pays for a voucher and starts watching his favourite videos. Yet another user, Mike, says he uses it for permutations, especially for Fantasy Premier League.
The users however said the biggest challenge is that the network doesn’t really get into their houses.
“You have to come outside to use it even in the night,” Nnanna said. “And you know this is Ajegunle, if the police don’t raid you in the night, hoodlums will. So, if they can make it get into our homes, everybody will be using it because the network is quite okay and the price is good.”
Responding to this query, Head of Customer Engagement, said that network getting into homes is one of the common complaints they get from customers. He told me that “it is important to note that Fiam WiFi is a public outdoor WiFi, not necessarily one designed to get into homes. But to meet our customers’ needs, we are planning to extend the service into homes by the end of this year so people can access it from the comfort of their rooms.”
FiamWiFi didn’t spend all of the past months building its network as it also involved itself in several community development programmes. Most notable of these was the sponsorship of the Kobis Global Annual Football Tournament in Ajegunle which attracted a lot of football academies as well as football lovers around the area.
Also, during the COVID-19 lockdown which halted economic activities, the company undertook one of its most valiant projects yet when it distributed food to households and families in Ajegunle.
The company also targets women-owned business places to bring them into its system and ensure gender inclusion for socioeconomic development. An example is Vera’s Café, a business centre where a hotspot is located.
As part of their social impact, Fiam WiFi has also installed Wifi Hotspots in some primary schools in Ajegunle one of which is St Mary’s Model Nur/Pry School which I think is a very good initiative. This and several other acts of social responsibility seems to be endearing Fiam WiFi to the hearts of many residents in the area.
After fully setting up in Ajegunle, Fiam WiFi is already looking to extend its service to other high-density low-income areas. This will include areas like Apapa, Alimosho, Mushin, Agege and others. This is a brave new concept and it will be interesting to see how far the company is willing to take it.
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