HITCH: Reimagining Connectivity and the Future of Video Content Delivery

HITCH smart WiFi hotspot: Rural deployment for smallholder farmers in Nigeria

Preface: For the past number of years, our team has been working on a novel way and scalable method of enabling underserved users have unlimited access to the videos that they want for “free”.

By “free”, we mean that we are focused on leveraging technologies, processes, and use-cases that enable on-demand user-driven “video buffet” content delivery to them. This video buffet encompasses a sustainable value offering — ranging from free, to a fraction of current costs, especially as is relative to average monthly incomes, irrespective of their underserved status or location.

For these users, we are determined to take away the unpleasant quandary of deciding between consistent access to empowering information/opportunity on the one hand, and feeding, clothing, or sheltering themselves adequately, on the other.

To do this, we have ideated and developed an innovation that removes the barriers posed by availability, affordability, and accessibility of broadband, to the reliable, cost-effective, and seamless creation and consumption of video, in underserved communities around the world.

Extensive research validates video impact on audience engagement and learning​. Mirroring global IP traffic patterns, the demand for video by brands and consumers alike, demonstrates its value to learning, commerce, and leisure; through unrestricted information to improve capacity, knowledge exchange, critical decision-making tools, and diverse entrepreneurial and professional opportunities.

It is counterintuitive to some, but in this knowledge-driven information age, the importance of broadband for video cannot be overstated, even if the feasibility of its supply at scale to underserved users, is discounted by others. Nevertheless, for various reasons (obvious and otherwise), different stakeholders herald this significant dislocation in broadband demand versus supply, as one of the great inequalities or deficits of our age.

Yet still, this conventional notion of what we now describe as “trickle-down broadband” has persisted for years amongst industry stalwarts and policy decision-makers alike. It hypothesizes that a focus on free basic connectivity is essential, and can be delivered now, but then posits that over time, as incomes rise, and technology becomes cheaper, eventually, broadband (and by extension streaming video — deemed non-essential) will become available, affordable, and accessible to underserved users.

We have been bold to discount this convention. We refute its rationale and implications entirely. We hold this as one of those self-evident truths. We believe that the tools to do this right now, are pervasively applicable, and our mission, especially achievable. We believe that what needs to be done is to reimagine the connectivity frontier, and not buckle to its limitations.

Global technology titans are also working to solve these challenges; governments, incumbents, start-ups, and upstarts alike — all have an opinion on how this can be done. We disagree with many and agree with some, and so today, we have decided to share our way with you.

We have gone above and beyond, and now distill our own ethos into HITCH: Reimagining Connectivity…

Starting with our WHY: HITCH empowers underserved users in emerging markets through unrestricted access to impactful videos that transcend literacy barriers.

Moving to our HOW: HITCH is a cloud platform that enables curation and access to videos via a HITCH-designed (smart) WiFi hotspot that caches content, and lets users access it offline.

Seamless Access:

● Local community operators just turn on HITCH smart WiFi hotspot and service is automatically enabled.

● Users access free service by connecting to open SSID at HITCH smart WiFi hotspots; after which their devices automatically redirect to landing page (no further input required).

● HITCH smart WiFi hotspot interface is a locally-tested icon-driven modern web application, which does not require use of a Third-Party App Store, and runs on any browser on a WiFi-enabled device.

● Categorized videos are viewed by clicking on corresponding icons/links.

● Remote management is auto-enabled, with data periodically uploaded for informing management, support, or service decisions.

Human-Centered Design & Usage:

HITCH smart WiFi hotspot:

● Is plug and play, with rugged and compact form-factor ideal for its operating environment.

● Can be fixed or mobile to increase communal access opportunities.

● Supports access from WiFi-enabled devices because of ubiquity.

● Interface and experience was co-created with users, and includes an accessible feedback process for improvements.

Theory of Change:

In our target markets, like Nigeria where we have ongoing deployments, broadband is unavailable, unaffordable, and inaccessible.

HITCH smart WiFi hotspots:

● Nurture and sustain economic opportunity, gender equality and empowerment, & social standing, using videos.

● Achieve significant savings from a multi-sided platform of customers and users, as well as other technological innovations, as the core of its model.

● Are owned/managed by local community operators, with whom it shares revenue from customers.

● Offering also includes: market-based information, freemium entertainment (from Nollywood, etc.), & off-grid energy access (recharging service for phones, LED appliances, etc.).

● Enables users improve capacity, output, & market opportunities, increasing incomes, and self-determination.

Ecosystem for Underserved Areas: HITCH also presents an open platform enabling Third-Party Developers and Solution Providers develop content, services, & applications to run in offline environments for underserved beneficiaries.

General anonymized platform data is logged to provide deep insights into impact assessments, consumption patterns, energy usage, peak/off-peak flows, engagement triggers, etc.; supplied to relevant stakeholders.

One of our partners, Empower, is currently developing an EmpowerNet service that runs on the HITCH platform, to deliver affordable connectivity and videos to residents of Refugee Camps and Urban Slums in East Africa (Uganda) and elsewhere.

Empower unit for EmpowerNet service in Nakivale Refugee Camp in Uganda

Empower is a social enterprise created by four students from the Schulich School of Business, York University who are Global Finalists in the 2017 Hult Prize Challenge. The Hult Prize, often called ‘the Nobel Prize for students’ is the world’s largest social entrepreneurship competition that challenges students around the world to address a pressing global issue with a sustainable business solution. The winning idea receives $1,000,000 USD in seed capital funding. This year’s competition drew over 50,000 applicants and Empower is one of six Global Finalists who will be pitching in September at the United Nations HQ to kick-off UN Week.

Empower is currently running an Indiegogo campaign for a project in refugee camps in Uganda (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/empower-building-a-more-connected-world-internet-network#/).

Let’s #Empower Refugees Together — Indiegogo Campaign Film

Please visit their Indiegogo campaign page; as donating, spreading the word, sending them messages of support, and offering to join them, will push them closer to accomplishing their vision by 2022: to provide connectivity to even the most remote locations and help refugees participate as global citizens.

Support: HITCH has been launched with grants and support from the Conrad Centre for Business, Entrepreneurship, & Technology at the University of Waterloo (UW), Canada; Communitech Edge Program and UW Velocity Garage at the Communitech Hub in Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada; the Nigerian Government (Federal Ministry of Finance Project ACT Nollywood/IDF and Federal Ministry of Trade & Investment GEM Project); World Bank/United Kingdom DFID [GEM Project]; and the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy at the University of Waterloo, Canada. We are also a participant in the Affordable Energy for Humanity (AE4H) Global Change Initiative.

Our mission is now, our future is here, and HITCH is pushing beyond the limits of convention.

Uche Onuora

Co-Founder/Lead Evangelist — HITCH (by Flexfinity)

Web: www.tryhitch.com

Twitter: @HITCHStream

Facebook: /HITCHStream