BRCK: An African Modem Unfazed by Power Outages


A Kenyan firm has unveiled a modem designed to deal with the unreliable power supply and connectivity issues in the African market.

The BRCK device is designed to deal with the fact that although many areas of Africa have good Internet access and/or cellphone coverage, electricity supplies can often be unreliable and cut out with no notice. The makers use the slogan “If it works in Africa, it’ll work anywhere.”

The modem runs off main electricity but also has a built-in battery with an eight-hour life. It can connect to fixed-line broadband but automatically switch to any nearby Wi-Fi networks or a 3G connection if needed. The switching is based on the way a smartphone automatically looks for the best connection option without needing user intervention.

There’s even a SIM card slot for emergencies, allowing the modem to get 2G data services such as GPRS from virtually any phone tower. Eventually the designers hope to include affordable connectivity to satellite Internet services as another option.

Built-in software also reports the modem’s current status to an online database, making it possible to quickly see which areas of a region may have power outages.

The modem itself is housed in a “ruggedized, weather-resistant case” designed to stand up to the harsh environments of some parts of Africa.

BRCK is the work of Ushahidi (Swahili for “testimony”), a firm that already develops data collection and visualization tools. It stemmed from attempts to track nationwide violence after a disputed Kenyan election in 2005.

Juliana Rotich, the company’s director, told the BBC the thinking behind BRCK was to start from scratch in designing a modem rather than try to modify equipment that had been designed for use in places with reliable connections.

The project has successfully achieved a funding target on Kickstarter, with donors scheduled to receive a device from November. It’ll cost around $200 in the US; the company hasn’t announced if there’ll be cheaper pricing in Africa.

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