The internet is considered indispensable to our modern day-to-day lives. However, a 2015 study by the International Telecommunication Union shows that more than two-thirds of the population in developing countries lack access to a stable internet connection. To address this issue, Computer Aid International, a UK-based not-for-profit organisation, developed “ZubaBox”, a mobile solar-powered internet cafe housed in a shipping container that provides computer-based facilities in developing countries and refugee camps. The system has been designed with the aim of bringing people in remote areas online, thereby helping in the development of important skill sets for improved education and career prospects.
The word “zuba” means the sun in Nyanja, an African language, and refers to polycrystalline solar panels used to power the container. It is designed to work in any location as it does not require a wired mains electrical supply. The roof of each unit is equipped with three to six 485 W solar panels, which can generate up to 1.4 MWp of electricity. In addition, the container is fitted with energy-efficient ceiling lights, ventilation fans, 10 mobile charging points and a printer. Eleven refurbished low-power-consuming computers are present with pre-installed wiring, and wireless internet connectivity can be provided through cellular USB sticks, a Wi-Fi connection or a VSAT system. To maintain a reliable power supply, the solar power system is coupled with batteries having advanced glass mat cell technology that can operate for 6-10 hours. An advanced inverter is used to optimise the battery operation and extend its life. Reportedly, a complete system costs £12,000-£22,000, depending on the various available configurations. The organisation does not have regional partnerships to locally build or equip the standard model as per the required specifications and hence has to ship the entire facility at the location. To cover operational costs, Computer Aid has proposed generating income from user fees for connectivity and phone charging using the ZubaBox.
ZubaBox has already been successfully installed at about 23 locations in neighbourhoods across Columbia, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Togo, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Morocco, etc. In 2016, Computer Aid partnered with Dell to set up the Dell Solar Learning Lab in Cazucá, Bogota, in Colombia, for educating the youth for better career prospects. In the future, the organisation hopes to gather enough resources through funding and partnerships to supply ZubaBoxes in more areas.