Ime Archibong is Facebook’s director of Product Partnerships. In his role, Ime is responsible for various Facebook products from messenger to internet.org and ensures these products create value for various partners. One of Ime’s most prominent roles has been working towards achieving Facebook’s mission of connecting the rest of the world without the internet.
We had a sit down with him where we spoke about his visit to Nairobi and how Facebook plans to achieve the goal of connecting 4.1 Billion people who currently do not have the internet.
“As a company, we have embarked on a bold mission to connect 7 Billion people in the world”, he says ” The purpose of the visit to Nairobi is to ensure that as a company we listen and learn from the different communities and ecosystems on how we can achieve this goal”. According to him, Nairobi is a city with immense creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial culture “I always look forward to spending time with these folks who are builders at their core and understand the complexity of the mission we are looking to achieve”, he added.
Ime firmly believes that Facebook has the ability to add value to these categories of people either through their product offerings or platforms hence the need to reach out to them.
Ime highlighted the success Facebook has achieved with its programs such as F8 Start, which allow them to reach to these categories of individuals. F8 Start is a Facebook program that allows early stage startups to build and grow their apps. “We have had the program for the last three years and continue to get smarter on how we can improve on it. The value we have received from the same has been huge and that for us is a success”. On local innovations.
Ime also spoke about mobile payments infrastructure pioneered by M-Pesa and which has placed Kenya on the global map. “We have messenger and WhatsApp, solutions businesses can use to connect with their customer and if we can add value to the same through transactional aspects, that would be great for the users”, he said.
In 2015, during the mobile World Congress in Barcelona Facebook CEO announced that the company was partnering with Qualcomm, Nokia and others with the view of connecting majority of the world that does not have the internet. Since then, Facebook has championed the project using various vehicles and we sort to understand what gains the firm had made so far with the program.
“We have barely achieved success with this and for Us, winning is connecting 4.1 Billion people to the internet. We have made inroads towards this goal be it through Facebook connecting people, accelerating the pace of connection or even creating the way for other entities to do the same”, he said. Ime says Facebook’s willingness to experiment shows the commitment the firm has in this quest.
Internet.org houses several programs under it which include Free basics, that allows users to access basic web services such as weather reports, Wikipedia, Facebook at no cost. The grand scheme of things is to have these users enjoy these basic services which would, in turn, inspire them to explore the rest of the web. Through Free basics, Facebook has managed to connect 25 million people who did not previously access the internet in over 50 countries across the world. The other is project Aquila uses solar powered planes the size of Boeing 737 to beam the internet to remote parts of the world without it. These planes can be on air for 3-6 months which makes them beneficial.
There is also Express wifi which has recently launched in India and Nigeria, where Facebook partners with internet service providers to offer cheap internet in different places. Others include partnerships with telcos as well as satellites that provide backhaul infrastructure to these areas. We sought to know if Express Wi-Fi will launch in Nairobi soon enough “I cannot comment on that but if Kenya is a good fit, we shall definitely consider offering to launch it here”, he said.
A few months back Facebook announced the launch of open cellular, another project under the internet.org project. With open cellular, Facebook is looking to create an open source, “wireless access platform” designed to drive down the cost of setting up cellular networks in places where it has been expensive to achieve the same. This would dramatically lower the cost of infrastructure necessary to roll-out such services making it possible for others to access the internet.
Open cellular will also incorporate hardware elements which can be used in far-flung areas to spread the connection. A local startup BRCK has been offering similar hardware solution and we sought to know if a partnership was in the works “No partnership yet but they are doing what we are also looking to do and we shall continue learning from them and grow together”, said Ime.
After the launch of Free Basics, Facebook announced they were opening up the platform to developers to allow them to create solutions for the same. However, innovators across the world protested the platform stating it failed to abide by the rules of net neutrality and the stringent conditions laid on developers looking to tap into this ecosystem would stifle innovation. We sought to know how Facebook hopes to arouse the interest of devs.
“We have over 600 developers on the platform and 100 of them are creating solutions for the African continent. We understand that developers form the cornerstone of our mission to connect people as they understand what people want. To include more on to the platform we are working with communities across the world to bring down the barriers of awareness and will continue to provide the necessary tools to allow for the creation of more solutions”, he said.
For Facebook the goal is to work with developers to offer relevant solutions for people, while at the same time partnering with organizations across the world to connect the majority of the world that does not access the internet.