Q&A with the Winners: Hellen Nakawungu

In this Q&A, Hellen Nakawungu talks about her team’s solution — “eduroam on a go to extend service to the unconnected R&E community of Uganda” — which won the Honorable Mention, Business Models Proof of Concept in the 2022 Connecting the Unconnected Challenge.

1.Please summarize your winning solution

eduroam (education roaming) is an international Wi-Fi internet access roaming service specially made for users in research, higher education, and further education. It provides researchers, teachers, and students network access when visiting an institution other than their own. Access to eduroam remains in connected institutions; hence the need for a way to provide service when off-campus and in other designated places.

Image courtesy of Hellen Nakawungu

The off-campus limitations of eduroam were most glaring when Uganda’s education section was locked down during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a solution, RENU introduced Metro eduroam in September 2020. For the first time in Africa, it was possible for students, university staff and researchers to access eduroam off-campus (wherever there was an eduroam hotspot). While this facilitated the continuation of learning despite the lockdown- it still tied users to urban center locations. After all, one could only connect to eduroam where there was a hotspot. RENU launched Metro eduroam with 300 hotspots spread out across only Kampala, Entebbe and Mukono. Anyone outside of these areas could not use the service. Even the 98 new hotspots deployed across 14 other towns throughout Uganda in early 2022 still are not sufficient to ensure that members of the research and education community can connect to eduroam anytime and anywhere.

eduroam On The Go’s inception came as a solution to the challenges that Metro eduroam presented as well as increasing the usage of eduroam by expanding it to regions outside campus and metropolitan areas as well as bringing eduroam closer to the users since with this solution eduroam becomes mobile and available from anywhere at any time. Since it is a pocket-size router, it enables continuous connection to eduroam even off-campus and outside the reach of Metro eduroam hotspots and other designated places. the eduroam On The Go service has been introduced to extend the reach of the legacy eduroam service to users regardless of where they are and at any time. eduroam On The Go allows the expansion of eduroam in remote areas across the country and users such as students and institution staff can easily collaborate and have easy access to resources such as the library and online education services at no cost. The provision of mobile devices that provide the eduroam On The Go service to the users will improve connectivity and consistent collaboration for citizens in the education and research community hence improving the education standards in the country as a whole. Since the devices are mobile – connectivity/internet is brought closer to the end users as well as increasing the coverage of the eduroam service.

2.What is the most unique/innovative aspect about your approach?

Image courtesy of Hellen Nakawungu

eduroam on the go solution is a pocket-size device that provides and extends the legacy eduroam Wi-Fi connectivity to users i.e.: – students, staff, and researchers anytime and anywhere.

3.What did you enjoy most about the CTU Competition and Summit Program?

The competition and summit gave our innovative solution exposure to different people both from the technical and non-technical side. This has helped us to improve the solution based on the feedback we obtained from the different stakeholders.

4.What are your project’s plans for the next 12-18 months?

We are working on improving the current prototype to meet user expectations according to the feedback we got from stakeholders, as lobbying for the project funding continues.

5.What is your estimate of the number of people impacted by your program? 

With the acquisition of enough funding, the product will impact over 500,000 students, staff, and researchers. 

6.Anything else you would like to share.

We appreciate the IEEE CTU team and the Competition organizers for the great opportunity rendered to us to showcase our project idea – Thank you so much for the honorary mention. We remain available for any possible funding opportunities from IEEE towards this solution.