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Hot startup of the month: South Africa's Riot Network

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Accessing Wi-Fi through a hotspot outside a school can be very dangerous. Therefore, it is imperative that underserved communities are not denied access because of affordability or safety concerns.

These were the sentiments shared by Riot Network CEO and Founder Jarryd Bekker to Connecting Africa on the sidelines of Africa Tech Festival held in Cape Town, South Africa, last week.

Riot Network uses MediaTek's system-on-a-chip (SoC) for its Crowdnet devices to deliver unlimited Wi-Fi services for people in townships and other underserved communities.

"It has become very expensive for Internet service providers (ISPs) to roll out traditional networks in low-income areas, creating a big accessibility gap," Bekker said.

Households get access to uncapped Wi-Fi using a stokvel-style payment scheme that ensures a group of houses remain connected by all chipping in toward the full monthly payment of the service.   (Source: Riot Network).
Households get access to uncapped Wi-Fi using a stokvel-style payment scheme that ensures a group of houses remain connected by all chipping in toward the full monthly payment of the service.
(Source: Riot Network).

Therefore, the company is testing the Crowdnet devices to enable households and small businesses to deploy and operate broadband infrastructure in their own neighborhoods.

Households then get access to uncapped Wi-Fi using a stokvel-style payment scheme to ensure a group of houses can remain connected.

A stokvel is a savings club where members contribute towards a specific goal each month.

When a Crowdnet device is placed on top of a house, it can give Internet access to up to fifty households for 89 South African rand (US$4.61) per month. It is currently being piloted in the Pretoria township of Olievenhoutbosch in South Africa.

"For us, it was a matter of dignity, think of using a public toilet, there is no dignity in that, there is no dignity in not having access to Wi-Fi. I believe it is unethical for people to share public Wi-Fi," he explained.

Crowdnet device ins and outs

Bekker added that Crowdnet distills all the elements of a last-mile network into an easy-to-install device called a Core Node.

"Then, Core Nodes automatically link with each other to form a mesh network that extends coverage across a neighborhood," he continued.

“The MediaTek Filogic 830 is a versatile, high-performance wireless networking SoC designed for routers, repeaters, access points and mesh networking devices," MediaTek said.

"The SoC enables device makers to build-in powerful applications based on an energy-efficient, Wi-Fi 6-ready platform," the company continued.

Wi-Fi 6 is the most recent iteration of the Wi-Fi network protocol and is a substantial upgrade over its predecessor.

"The recent advance in South African mobile networks is bringing broadband connectivity to the majority of the population, yet, many people are still excluded or underserved," said MediaTek Middle East and Africa Director for Business Development Rami Osman.

"We are excited by the progress RIOT Network is making in technology and business model and we will continue to support them with our Filogic Wi-Fi platforms to bring the social and economic benefits of high-speed broadband closer to more African communities," Osman continued.

Riot Network competitive advantage

There are other companies offering similar services to what Riot Network is doing. That includes Lokshin WiFi, a low-cost wireless Internet service provider (WISP) launched in August 2022.

Lokshin WiFi uses fixed wireless broadband provider FibrePoynt's cloud-based platform and solar-powered network infrastructure to provide low-cost Internet connectivity to consumers and small businesses.

Sky Internet SA attempts to bridge the digital divide by supplying townships and low-income areas with reliable Internet.

Another company similar to Riot Network comes from a partnership between Indigo Broadband, vendor Indio Networks and ISP owners Far North Technologies and Tirisan Technologies. It connects the Louis Trichardt community to the Internet at a low cost.

However, Bekker said what makes Riot different from the rest is that the company's service also brings high-speed Wi-Fi.

"With 94% 4G/LTE coverage, we see the potential to bring Crowdnet devices to townships and rural homes throughout South Africa over the next two years. Our collaboration with MediaTek is integral to our strategy," he added.

"The association with MediaTek aligns with our commitment to affordability and quality and it also fosters innovation and technical proficiency," he concluded.

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*Top image is of Riot Network CEO and Founder Jarryd Bekker explaining how Riot Network works. (Source: Riot Network).

— Matshepo Sehloho, Associate Editor, Connecting Africa

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