November 14, 2018 Read More →

U.K. company’s Africa expansion will bundle solar power with internet service

Bloomberg New Energy Finance:

Providing internet to off-grid solar customers in Africa is the next logical step for BBOXX Ltd. in becoming a “next-generation utility,” according to Mansoor Hamayun, chief executive and co-founder of the U.K.-based company, which is backed by Engie SA and venture capital investors.

Hamayun told BloombergNEF in an interview that BBOXX can increase its average revenue per user and overall number of customers by offering internet as an additional service to electricity under a pay-as-you-go model.

BBOXX has launched its internet hotspot model in Rwanda, where customers log into the hotspot using their existing BBOXX user account, and the amount of time they spend on the internet is added to their bill. Hamayun is considering expanding internet provision into urban areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it may bundle a Wi-Fi offering together with solar energy and partner with a telecoms company to facilitate it. The aim from a customer’s perspective, would be to “have one sole provider for internet, utility and appliances,” he said.

“Electricity is a starting point. All the infrastructure that we have to build around it then becomes the foundation for extra services – everything from logistics to call centers and customer services,” said Hamuyun. BBOXX is able to provide lower-cost internet due to the existing distribution and logistics networks it already has in place, plus call centers, customer services and billing processes.

Providing internet access in rural places is a “mass market opportunity”, as without internet access, the use case for mobile phones and many other appliances becomes limited. “We are seeing evidence among certain customers that payment for internet is equal to what they pay for electricity, so it doubles the revenue we receive,” Hamayun said.

“From a customer’s perspective, you have one sole provider for internet, utility and appliances. Many customers don’t have internet access, or cheap enough internet, to use their appliances with. The reason for the high cost of internet in many areas is that the overheads of managing customers are expensive. So the fact that we’ve built up an effective distribution and logistical network, call centers, customer services and billing processes — all established with our electricity offering — helps to lower the cost of internet and other services to people. Electricity is a starting point.”

“We credit check our customers and install the system in their household with a range of appliances. Each system is remotely monitored and controlled. In Rwanda, customers can qualify for an upgrade to a smart phone, and once they get that they can access the hotspot and pay using mobile money. BBOXX has received equity from institutional investors like Engie and on a local level we work with banks. In Rwanda, we have debt funding from Deutsche Bank and Banque Populaire du Rwanda. A USAID guarantee and agreements with the Africa Guarantee Fund is part of that, and the debt comes from a socially-focused fund they manage. That allows us to purchase the equipment that we manufacture, install it and receive payment that matches the debt profile.”

More: ‘Next-Gen Utility’ Offers Africans Solar, Internet

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