I recently met Mobit founder, Njabulo Maphumulo, at MaAgnes Ndlovu’s spaza shop in Hambanathi. The place was lively. There was a boy washing a minibus taxi while playing a popular song by Emtee titled: Ghetto Hero.
Hambanathi is in Tongaat, about 10km from King Shaka International Airport in Durban.
Not far from the taxi other youngsters were standing in groups peering into their smartphones.
A few giggling girls were buying mobile data from the spaza shop.
The lyrics of Ghetto Hero goes:
“Without you I’m nothing.
You turned me into something, yeah.
I wanna be, I wanna be a ghetto hero, yeah yeah.
I wanna be, I wanna be a ghetto hero, yeah yeah
Something like Steve Biko, yeah yeah yeah …
Watch the hood come alive. Zero to hero.
Story of my life…”
I greeted Maphumulo and his friends, Anele Ndlovu and Langa Mpanza.
He knew I was there to find out more about his ambitious affordable Internet access project.
“What are you really trying to achieve here in Hambanathi?” I asked Maphumulo.
“We are trying to transform people’s lives here. We are building a network. So, it is like building a network of roads to information,” responded Maphumulo.
“Once people have information, they can innovate. They can grow, and that’s transformation.”
Considering the modest means most people get by with, I could only assume Maphumulo was a superhero of Tongaat.
He wants to see everyone in Hambanathi connected to the digital world and opportunities.
Like the political icon Steve Biko, who lost his life fighting for the rights of black people, it seems Maphumulo has a burning desire to uplift others less fortunate.
He is doing this by encouraging and helping the people of Hambanathi to be part of the connected world through the internet, which can build their dignity and self-worth.
“The internet is like food. We will need it all the time. So why make it expensive,” said Maphumolo, a university dropout.
He was studying towards an architecture diploma at the Durban University of Technology, but he ran out of money and couldn’t continue.
In 2011 Maphumulo founded Mobit, an Internet Service Provider startup. Mobit has been deploying its network around Tongaat, but it has been an expensive exercise.
It initially provided Wi-Fi in his township. Then, he promoted the services by painting the Wi-Fi sign on the tarred road next to where the services were available.
The startup was born after Maphumulo realised that residents of Hambanathi were far removed from the digital world.
They had been left behind in the dark ages of technology with WhatsApp being their only communication tool.
Maphumulo says limited funds drove him to design and build the company’s first telecommunication network tower instead of buying one.
Tongaat Hullet paid for the material needed to make the mobile network tower. Maphumulo designed the mobile network tower on SketchUp. Then, helped by locals, he welded the tower together in the Hambanathi township in Tongaat.
Maphumulo used a wheelbarrow to carry the tower and cement to the Tongaat Hullet premises, 10km from Hambanathi. He installed the tower at a sugarcane fields watchtower for observing fires.
Maphumulo says he dug a huge hole by himself and set up Mobit tower, which connects antennas to the Tongaat area and the fibre source in Ballito.
If he did not do the work himself, the tower erection could have cost between R1 million and R3 million, depending on where it is located. Besides, it could take years to get zoning approval.
In many cases, it is not viable to build full-blown mobile phone towers in rural villages.
An operator has to wait for 10 years to begin to earn a profit on their investment in rural areas.
Therefore, it is more profitable to invest in urban areas with network rollouts.
This means millions of people are still without internet access in rural South Africa.
Maphumulo told TechFinancials in an interview that “most people don’t see townships as a viable place for business, but for me, it is the opposite … as you can see, Hambanathi is rich with many opportunities”.
He dreams of connecting the whole of Hambanathi township to his network.
Tongaat and its sub-areas have about 100 000 residents.
“The Hambanathi township has 10 000 houses. So, there is demand for our internet services,” says Maphumulo.
“I want to own the entire township.”
To provide the best experience and meet the demand, Mobit uses the technology of FibrePoynt, a technology vendor owned by global firm Poynting Antennas. FibrePoynt is funded and duly supported by The Technology Innovation Agency (TIA).
FibrePoynt has a HomePoynt solution, which connects users to broadband core networks in a peer-to-peer setup.
The solution can provide wireless internet service for homes and public areas, where there is already backhaul coverage but no end-user access.
HomePoynt delivers fixed and roaming Internet connectivity to the community using fibre backhaul and a unique configuration of antennas supplied by Poynting Antennas.
Fibre is pulled through to central points that serve as Wi-Fi connection access points for a specified number of houses in each area, and a user can connect to each sub-network.
HomePoynt uses mini-Janus Consumer Access Points (JCAPs), installed to provide street and household coverage, creating a cloud network across the communities.
In addition, the mini-JCAPS acts as a portal for devices to connect to a local area network.
“This architecture makes sense. It is very scalable and will not overload our access points,” explains Maphumulo.
What also makes the FibrePoynt architecture beneficial to Mobit is that it is solar-powered.
Therefore, it can provide Internet to the Hambanathi community even during load-shedding.
Through FibrePoynt architecture, Mobit is now able to deliver affordable Internet to Hambanathi homes and individual users.
Asked how this pricing is a game-changer, Maphumulo says, “My pricing is motivated by the desire to make connectivity affordable to as many people as possible.
“Therefore, our pricing is about giving as much connectivity as possible whilst decreasing the cost of connectivity.
“Our pricing is also simple, and we don’t have packages that may be confusing to the end-user.
“In addition, all our data is valid for 30 days, thus giving the end user enough time to get value out of their purchase.”
Mobit is planning to create an army of voucher resellers, thereby creating income opportunities for them.
The startup currently has two resellers onboarding customers to the easy-to-use app that enables them to buy vouchers.
The startup is also partnering with spaza shops in the area to sell its vouchers.
“They get a good % commission for selling our vouchers,” says Maphumulo.
MaAgnes Ntuli, a spaza shop owner who resells data, says Mobit has cheaper rates than mobile phone networks.
By teaming up with FibrePoynt, Mobit can pivot its products rapidly to meet customers’ requirements.
“The entrepreneurial spirit of Maphumulo attracted us to work with Mobit,” says Eduard Walker, CEO of FibrePoynt.
“We believe in Maphumulo’s vision to combat poverty in the community by improving education, increasing innovation, and deploying affordable wireless network infrastructure,” says Walker.
“We believe developing new infrastructure and products with Mobit will have an impact on thousands of people in this community.”
Mobit is already changing people’s lives in Hambanathi.
Ntobeko Sibiya, a resident of Hambanathi, says she is excited about the possibilities the Mobit network brings.
She has already taken up the Mobit home connection.
“The Mobit network has made things better, especially for my kids with schoolwork. They can also access Khan academy to improve their education,” says Sibiya.
“They can also search for anything they need on Google. My kids only go to school for a few days because of COVID-19.
“With this Mobit router that gives us access to the Internet and makes things easier for my kids.
“The internet will also help me a lot when I go back to study for my education degree.”
Walker added that HomePoynt solution has the potential of driving economic growth in Hambanathi by delivering much-needed Internet services such as home-schooling, e-commerce, and security solutions, etc.
“As more people require to be connected to the Internet – a paradigm shift is required to bring on board those still in the periphery of the digital world,” he said.
“To realise the economic benefits of these technological changes, it is essential to provide the right support and modern infrastructure for the wireless fibre industry.”
Other youngsters in the area are using the Mobit network powered by HomePoynt to trade and apply for jobs.
“We can now apply online for jobs, and we can get emails through Mobit,” says Nomagugu Ntazi.
“We buy cheaper data through the Mobit app instead of buying on those expensive apps with our banks.”
Her friend, Muzi Ndlovu, says the Mobit network has made it easier for him to trade and buy online.
Mobit is aiming to capture more customers in Hambanathi and grow its network across various areas.
However, for now, Maphumulo says he wants to change the patterns of data use in Hambanathi.
“The greater challenge is to move people from social media such as WhatsApp to embrace other forms of data consumption,” he says.
“If we have a connected country, the possibilities are endless. If everyone is connected, we will have less violence and crime.
Maphumulo says people are stuck at a point of no possibility of growth.
“If you have access to the Internet, you can transition from not knowing what to do to survive and thrive. The Internet is an important resource.”
Maphumulo says he believes with the support of FibrePoynt’s network infrastructure Mobit will eventually operate in several townships.- email@example.com