Kenya’s BRCK ships over 600 devices

By Tom Jackson, South Africa

Kenyan-developed modem-cum-router BRCK has shipped over 600 devices to 45 countries since it was launched with the goal of providing internet connectivity in off-grid rural areas.

Launched in July and initially developed by Kenyan firm Ushahidi before being spun out as a separate entity, the BRCK works in much the same way as a mobile phone, switching between Ethernet, Wi-Fi and 3G or 4G mobile networks. Power is redundant, as if power fails the BRCK can fall back on its 8-hour battery automatically.

East African Community (EAC) figures suggesting electricity is a constant problem in the region, with 90 per cent of schools and 30 per cent of hospitals off-grid, and the BRCK is an attempt to tackle that issue.

The company was initially funded to the tune of US$172,000 in Kickstarter, and has since raised US$1.2 million in funding from Invested Development, Omvestments, Urban.us, Cheryl Heller and Gary Scheft of CommonWise LLC and Synergy Growth to launch and ship.

Co-founder Erik Hersman told Biztech Africa just over 600 devices have so far been shipped to 45 countries, while the company was also working on improving the product.

“Well, there’s quite a bit going on, as you can imagine,” he said. “Much of it is the boring part of the business, where we’re getting the firmware upgraded or listening to our customers and trying to improve the user experience.”

Hersman said the company was working on extending the product by adding local Wi-Fi antennas to provide it with greater range, and opening up its GPIO port for more development with other hardware. BRCK, he said, was currently focused on getting a Raspberry Pi to work well with the device to create a small, rugged remote server.

“The reality is we’re just happy to have shipped the BRCK out to everyone, and we’re now in that iteration phase where we try to make things better,” he said.

With only 24 per cent of the developing world connected to the internet, and those that are experiencing unreliable connectivity, often due to power shortages, the BRCK is an attempt to solve these problems.

“Seeing and experiencing this problem firsthand, Ushahidi developed the BRCK: a device that allows for rugged, reliable, and easy access to internet connectivity. This is a critical innovation for a variety of sectors across Africa. The BRCK taps into the unique market characteristic of emerging market internet subscribers: 65 per cent of whom access the internet wirelessly,” the company said.

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