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State of the internet in Ethiopia and meeting Charles Hoskinson — Ethiopia trip October 2021

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Sandi & Petra in Addis Ababa

Sandi & Petra in Addis Ababa

Sitting in a bar on the Addis Ababa Airport, having a bit of time, I thought I’ll write a bit more relaxed blogpost about my week in Ethiopia. There are some new rules to fly from Ethiopia into Dubai that makes you come to the airport 7 hours early and do some more fun nose drilling for the COVID test. I had 4 done already in the last week and there are 3 more waiting in the next 8 days. Oh joy.

There have been 3 major reasons to fly into Ethiopia now. First one was, we wanted to shoot some promotional and educational videos about 3air and the state of internet in African countries, the second one to follow up on the ISP and frequency licensing needed for our entry and third one being meeting the IOHK team and Charles Hoskinson on their Africa trip and aligning with their vision in covering Africa with digital services.

We started planning for this trip quite a long time ago. Our marketing team set the filming already 2 months ago and as it happened to align with the IOHK’s Africa trip, we thought it might be a fit to cover both at the same place and reduce our cost a bit.

As we have a team member living in Addis Ababa, he started looking for a filming crew and writing scrips already in September. We got a professional documentary crew locally in Addis and I think we made the right choice. Let’s se how the videos pan out, they should be ready by 15th of November.

Sunday, 24th of October 2021 — Flying to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

We flew into Ethiopia a week ago on Sunday. The airport in Dubai was almost empty and at the gate it looked like it’s going to be an almost empty flight. Guess what… there was a second gate full of people. The flight was so full that is was impossible to store all the luggage on the plane. There where people running around with overfilled plastic bags, trying to fit it into the upper storage rooms. I need to remember to start flying Business.

A piece of advice when you fly to Ethiopia. You should get a sit as close to the front as possible and then try to get off the plane first. Then you might have a chance to get through border control within half hour. I also learned the lesson on my first trip, not to bring too much technology with me. I usually carry a second portable screen and you are not allowed to bring with you more than one laptop. I was explaining the guys at customs that a screen is not a laptop and how it actually works for 45 minutes before they probably got tired of me and just let me pass. The same goes for mobile phones and don’t even think about bringing a drone without having a license.

Well, this time we were prepared and all went smooth. Stephan was already waiting for us and the rest of the day was easy going with only a few calls and finished up with local food in his home. His lovely wife Hannan is a great host, and I’m always grateful to be a guest there.

But be careful with the local food. Although it’s an adventure in eating and tastes very nice, if you are not used to us it might bloat you because of their fermented pancake-bread called injera. and different spices and herbs used for cooking. I can tell you, it was a firey night.

Monday, 25th of October 2021 — Filming in the rural and urban areas of Addis

Next morning we got up at 6 am and drove to a nearby village where we met the filming crew. If you drive in Addis you need to move either fore 7 am or after 9 am else you just get stuck in traffic. The same goes for the afternoon. It’s just impossible to drive between 2 and 6 pm.

To get to the filming spot, we needed to drive off the main road. A bit out of Addis only the main road is asphalt and the rest is dirt and rocks. We drove by a local school and saw children playing outside, we drove by houses made out of mud and cow poo, covered with metal rooftops that were shining silvery in the morning sun. The nature is beautiful there. We passed a newly built mobile tower and I was thinking… nowt this might be interesting.

The new mobile tower in the rural area

The new mobile tower in the rural area

We parked between goats and donkeys and entered the courtyard with our cameras and light. The neighbors started sending out their little spies to se what is going on. Those cure little girls and boys running around, touching us and laughing. Yet, I was wondering why they are not in school. It was Monday morning, they should have been in school. As it turned out, not all children there are registered and if you’re not registered, you can’t get into school. And we are 20 km out of the city center.

We set up our cameras and started talking to the head of the family. He wasn’t really knowledgeable about the Internet and who could blame him. He told us they got the mobile tower set up a month ago and before it was impossible to get on the internet. What he knew was, that there’s good information about how to raise cattle on the internet and that what he was most keen on. His kids have also been using the internet but online schooling was impossible he said. To be honest I haven’t been paying so much attention to what he was saying because he didn’t speak English and I need to wait for a translation afterwards as I don’t speak Amharic. Did you know that even a few more kilometer out the language can change so much that they don’t even understand each other anymore?

With the lack of tourist, you will be the main attraction

With the lack of tourist, you will be the main attraction

I did try to measure the internet speed and at times it was really decent with about 4 MB/s download speed. With that you can already do something. The main issue was though that we moved just a few meters and the signal dropped and so did the download speed that went to below the 1 MB/s mark. Yet looking backwards on it, this was the best internet connection we faced except for the Sheraton hotel and Stiwis house.

After filming we got some coffee and homemade bread. Magic.

Our next stop was a high neighborhood house, that has been connected to a cable internet provider. As usual we have been invited into the house with the common ritual of being offered coffee and popcorn with a lot of smoke from burning some incense. While the crew was setting up equipment I tried to connect to the router. I was expecting some better connection but it was actually worse than using the mobile phone. It took me 15 minutes to upload an 8s video.

The lady of the house told us she was an actress and has also been trawling around the world so she knows a bit how the internet should work. They had a smart TV but the connections was not good enough to get a video through the internet on it. She also told us that her son is trying to use the internet a lot but has to wake up during the night to be able to use it as they get a fairly decent signal then.

Our next stop was a new shopping mall. We were there a bit before the crew, got thoroughly searched before entering and then went around the shops a bit. The shops were mostly selling clothing and there was a restaurant in the middle. We tried to connect to the open Wi-Fi but there was no internet coming through. We sat down in the restaurant and ordered some fresh juices. We asked for the Wi-Fi password but the waiter told us that the internet just never worked and that it’s no use even trying.

Shopping mall in Addis — no Wi-Fi here

Shopping mall in Addis — no Wi-Fi here

I was running around the mall a bit trying to get a mobile signal through but it was just EDGE. I have no clue what the store owner said that we interviewed so even I’ll have to see it on video, just as you.

We finished the day exhausted and went home for dinner. Addis lays at almost 3.000 m above sea level so the air is a bit thin and you can feel it. It makes climbing stairs difficult and it just exhausts you physically. Because it’s so high it’s also cold. The first time I came to Ethiopia I thought OK, it’s Africa, it has to be hot. How wrong I was. I was never so cold in my life. The temperatures at night fall to around 10 deg C and the houses don’t have heating and good isolation. 10 deg C outside means 10 deg C inside. Brrr.

Tuesday, 26th of October 2021 — Is there any internet in the malls of Addis?

Next day we started a bit later. We drove into town at 9 am to a friends place. He has a palace. He was joking he even doesn’t know how many rooms he has. I counted at least 10 bedrooms… for 4 persons. Poor cleaning lady. We had some catching up to do and waited for the filming crew. Again, the same story with the internet. His Wi-Fi worked good enough to do some posting and emails but I struggled with YouTube and the mobile network hasn’t been cooperative at all. EDGE all the way. We did manage to get a call through without video with our friends at CV Labs Dubai though. Some good marketing coming our way from that side.

Next stop was an open place overlooking Addis, where I did my interview. We’ve been waiting for the filming crew for half an hour so we had time to look a bit around. The guys at parking washed our car for $1. The kids immediately ran towards us begging for money. We’ve been told not go give anything as well probably get robbed. So we didn’t take any money with us. It was hard and at one point Petra went for 2 bananas she had put away for us and gave them to a little girl. She was so happy but in the next moment a boy came along and stole the bananas. This was heartbreaking to see really. I just couldn’t take it anymore and me and Petra went to get all the food we had on our car and gave it away to the children there.

After the interview we stopped at a bank. We went to the headquarters in the middle of the city. An impressive building, 29 floors high, with golden elevators. Guess what? EDGE again, even on the second highest floor.

We had a talk with the manager and he told us they are subscribing for a 200 Mbit bandwidth line, yet during the day they don’t even get a tenth of that delivered. This makes it difficult for them to communicate with the branches and work with their systems online for the clients. Online banking also isn’t working well. We talked for almost half an hour but he didn’t want to say anything on record. He said this is the only option to get at least some connectivity and if they would cancel with them they are left without altogether. We tried also at other banks but no luck.

We cut the day short and returned home to do some 3air work.

The night was again cold and loud. There was a kind of barking all around the house and I already knew it was hyenas or Gib as the locals call them. We saw them previous night driving home. They hide from the sun during the day under construction sites and come out at dawn.

Hyena or Gib how the locals call them

Hyena or Gib how the locals call them

Wednesday, 27th of October 2021 — A school with a decent internet connection

On Wednesday we had a meeting at one of the local schools. We picked the school that Stiwi’s son Illias goes to as they have been really accommodating because of it. Illias goes to the local Cambridge International school. It’s a different world, compared to the rest of Addis Ababa, especially as it a new compound, opened just a year before. We have been waiting over an hour for a meeting. You need to be prepared for this. Time in Africa just flow differently than in the rest of the world.

We talked to one the principals of the school and he was telling us they are quite satisfied with the internet. They have a 100 Mbit optics connection that works good for what they need it for. They use the internet a lot in their education and it’s really important for them. They had an exceptional Wi-Fi coverage all over the compound and I asked for the password. All students can always connect to the Wi-Fi for free and I was really glad to hear that and see such a good connection. I tested it with the standard speed test and got an amazing 70 MB/s download speed. It would seem that’s all they need yet once the bell rang for the break, the download speed again fell to below 1 MB/s. Again a slap in the face in regards to a stable and fast internet connection. There is just not enough bandwidth to support all the 3000 children in the school.

Cambridge international in Addis Ababa

Cambridge international in Addis Ababa

In the meantime Stiwi had to go to the airport for some important meeting in Europe, so I’ve been left with my next adventure, driving the car in Addis. Luckily I had my GF Petra with me as a navigator so I could focus on the road. For you who only drive in Europe or the US, I can tell you, driving in Africa is different. Nobody really respects any lanes or normal distances between cars, people are just walking on the roads and there are donkeys and goats jumping around as they please. Quality of the roads is on another level and I don’t mean this in a good way. Each and every car has at least one bump and a couple of scratches. And Stiwi left me with an almost new car in a perfect condition. Talking about pressure ha-ha.

I’ve been driving in a few places around the world so I kinda know what to expect and how to react. Even in Dubai you need to be a bit aggressive if you want to blend in. Thankfully because of the bad roads and bad cars the aggressiveness here is a bit slower, although a bit more intense. Driving in Africa is mostly about who is the strongest.

I got into the groove quite fast and the traffic wasn’t to bad on my first drive there. We went home for lunch and to do some computer work and got forced to some easy going afternoon because of the power outage.

Power outages are common in Addis. We’ve been without power since the day before so going almost 24 hours now. In such cases you need to have a power aggregator else bye-bye refrigerated food. The aggregator at the house isn’t powerful enough to power everything in the house so only half the house has lights and no hot water. The internet router is connected to the ups but once the battery is empty it just breaks off too many times, making it a nightmare to use. I was just hoping the power returns before our first scheduled AMA.

We got the power back just enough to power the batteries of the UPS and my laptop so the AMA is on, the other problem was that we have not yet been approved for the use of live streaming on YouTube. Always something I’m telling you. OK, we just streamed live to Twitter and uploaded to YT the next day. Midway through the AMA the power went out again but luckily the batteries held and the Wi-Fi stopped working a few minutes after AMA end. From then on till the morning it was only 3G again. Better go to sleep 😊

Thursday, 28th of October 2021 — Meeting John and Dynal

After a cold night I just woke up in the hopes of there is electricity back and with-it hot water. Got a bit luck and could take a nice shower. Then a coffee and off to check all the messages on out telegram channel https://t.me/my3air. It was the first time there came lot’s of questions in.

I thought I’ll have an easy day as the filming crew went out alone to film some more stuffs, but I quickly got in contact with our friends and advisors at IOHK, John O’Connor and Dynal Patel that arrived in Addis and we set up a meeting at the Hyatt.

I was again driving into the city center. 10 am is a good time to drive that road so it took me only 1 hour and 10 minutes to drive the 16 km road. You might think that’s a lot but it actually isn’t. The way back took us over 2 ours as we have been driving in the peak hours.

It was really nice to catch up with the guys but John was constantly on the phone, organizing the rest of the trip and getting in the meetings with ministers and presidents. We did though have time to have an hour long talk about the future of 3air. Good one.

Dynal Patel and Sandi Bitenc talking 3air

Dynal Patel and Sandi Bitenc talking 3air

I also had the chance to sit down with Dynal and talk about the technical aspects of our project and he gave me some good ideas for the future and how to make the tokenomics model better. We’ll be implementing additional token utilities as it seems.

Then John introduced me to some new potential investors and the time just flew by. It started getting dark outside and we decided to go back home. The drive this time was not to pleasant as the roads were jammed. At major crossings there are always children and other begging for money. Unfortunately it’s best advised to not give anything and to lock your doors. Once you open the window, your jewelry or anything removable will just wannish. Unfortunately also things on the outside of the car are “removable” so you just stay without a back mirror or similar. There is a special marketplace for such “lost” car parts. You pay a bit and you get your own back.

Finally we arrived home and after realizing we lost over 3 hours while driving we decided to just check into Hyatt for the next 2 days to be closer to the IOHK. I went to sleep in anticipation of the coming day.

Friday, 29th of October 2021 — Meeting Charles Hoskinson

Today is the day. Today I’m meeting Charles Hoskinson, the founder of Cardano.

After coffee, Petra packed our suitcases and we left for Hyatt. There are 2 places you go for business in Addis. One is Hyatt and the other is Sheraton. The downside is just the price. Although everything is much cheaper then Europe, hotels are at least Europe level priced. But this time it was worth it.

I’ve been in meetings with interesting people the whole day. I got to know a lot of the IOHK crew and some other new and interesting projects building on Cardano.

The day flew away making new friends and partners and it was almost 6 pm, time for dinner with Charles. The dinner was in the Sheraton and I drove there with Dynal a bit earlier.

We had a private dinner room. Around 20 people where invited and I got the place next to Charles. Incredible. I haven’t been as nervous in quite a while. I wanted to meet Charles since I listened to his first YouTube videos. His knowledge and world views just resonated with me from the beginning and I strongly believe he’s vision is already starting to change the world. If I can be a part of that with our 3air, it would be a dream come through.

In the end it was far easier to talk to him than I thought first. We’ve started talking about the telecoms and 3air and Sierra Leone and I explained him a bit about our technology and our vision. I think it resonated well with Charles and I think he sees the potential in what we can bring to the table. Some ideas came up of a possible project covering the whole country with renewable energy and broadband infrastructure. I do hope we continue the talks after the Africa tour is over.

The rest of the evening was a bit more relaxed, talking about general topics of how to change the world etc.

We finished the evening at the Hyatt with the whole IOHK team. Amazing people that gathered around this project. Kudos to all of them!

Saturday, 30th of October 2021 — Barbecue at John’s

I think this was the first night I didn’t feel cold during the night since arriving in Addis. Still I’m not used staying up late anymore and I just couldn’t get myself tighter 100%, not even after breakfast and having 4 espressos. I did some online work in the lobby, waiting for Charles to show up to give him the present I worked so hard to get for him.

Charles Hoskinson looking at “kurent”

Charles Hoskinson looking at “kurent”

That was a feat. The moment I got the meeting with him confirmed I started thinking, what do you give a billionaire? It has to be something unique and I just happened to had the best idea. Charles is collecting masks, that I knew, and in Slovenia we have a pretty special mask used our carnival in February. It’s called Kurent and the origins are not 100% know and could be as old as 3000 years. There are only a handful of people still doing it so I called up friends from Slovenia and asked them to look for the real deal. We had to bribe some people a bit so we could jump over the line and get it ready to ship on time.

The mask was ready to ship on Monday but DHL said it won’t arrive till next Monday and that would be to late. My dad then went and picked up the mask and drove it 2 hours away so it could get on a plane the same say. That way we should get to Addis till Thursday. That could work, right?

And it did. The mask was in customs on Thursday but they didn’t want to clear it. Apparently masks are prohibited somehow in Ethiopia and because it’s made of sheep skin, they wanted to ship it to the health ministry to check. Or local friend Miki intervened and somehow, magically managed to get it out of customs on Friday, so the mask was waiting for Charles there, it was just never the right time to give it to him.

Finally we met at the lobby and I was able to present the gift. I think he really liked it and it will hopefully be a nice addition to his collection. I do think we made his day a bit better.

The rest of the day was in light of a barbecue at John’s place. There are so many stories from that afternoon, that I just can’t even start writing them all down. Amy, John’s wife has returned the night before from a coup in Sudan. Some scary stories there yet she was all smiling and welcoming towards all of us visiting her house.

Seeing Charles in a more relaxed environment, telling jokes and entertaining the crowd was priceless. You can feel the mutual respect between him and the rest of the IOHK crew. Respectful, yet relaxed and you have a perfect working environment.

Charles, Sandi and Tamara

Charles, Sandi and Tamara

I’m so grateful to be able to talk to all of them and get to know them a bit. Tamara, Orion, Kidist, Sunshine, Carlos, Leonidas… Hope to see you again soon. And I also need to follow up on conversations about tokenomics with Daren and 3air licensing in Ethiopia with Ilina. So much goodness in such a short time.

I ended the day with listening to Charles AMA where he mentioned the Kurent mask and our Sierra Leone project. Perfect end of the trip.

I could go on and on but this is now already a too long of a blog… I do hope you enjoyed a bit easier reading for once and do follow us on Twitter and Telegram and YouTube.

3air is a decentralized telecom platform connecting people of Africa with broadband. Please visit 3air.io for more information.