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How cybercafes can thrive in a modern mobile Internet world

By Guest Writer on October 31, 2011


The greatest financial hurdles to open a computer cybercafe in Africa have been Line 1 on the Capex – Computers, and Line 1 on the Opex – Internet Access. Africa has the highest fees for Internet access in the world. What a lousy business – great demand, but expensive machines and expensive Internet in rural areas that are hard to service.

Mobile phones and mobile data at first seems a great competition to the Internet cafe. Both have low Capex, low Opex, and easy to service.

The rural Cybercafe owner is crying – “When do I get the cheap rates!” The Mobile companies are starving the Internet cafe. They don’t offer cheap broadband off the backs of their connections. In the towns I’ve been visiting, I can get GPRS/Edge connections on my phone, I can see the backhaul is often highly contended satellite, sometimes fibre, but the mobile carrier isn’t in the business of offering me a broadband connection to a home or to the Internet cafe. That is going to cannibalize his mobile data business.

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Value Added Services

So what to do? Value Add! All successful businesses change. Nokia started as a tree company!

I am John Hawker I can only tell you my experience with Sat-ed which developed and made this model for rural areas. You need to be more than just an cybercafe. You need to value add and grow with your customers. They’re gaining in sophistication. This months model mobile phone is not enough, so be there waiting for that moment. Grow with them. They’ll want more. As more phones join the network, their experience is going to fail.

We never took our test concept past 4 commercial “Internet” sites, but it worked for over 5 years, each site was financially viable within weeks and made much more than an Internet site, yet had the same staff and similar costs. What we did was offer a wide range of ICT services, always as low cost as possible as our areas were poor. Each site had 2 rooms, one for PC’s, one for other “things.” Our site offered many things that being home alone with a mobile can’t offer.

Local Trainers and Employees

We’d find teachers in the villages we worked in, identified who had good reputations and wanted to work as after school tuition in different subjects. That gave us a small margin, and a good reputation.

We’d run classes teaching kids how to use computers safely; parents liked that and felt safe. We repaired computers belonging to others, so that we created an environment that made people want to buy computers. The site manager/owner was a local trained to repair.

Be sure you add a cybercafe control system like “CafeCup” or any other system. This stops people messing with your system. You’ll save yourself thousands for a $50 investment or a free system.

Scanning and Photcoyping

We added scanning which everyone does, and found old binding presses, very cheap, kids love them, and for a few extra cents it means their school project looks much better, you sell the plastic folder that goes with it at a mark up. So that over time the shop can evolve as well. Anyone running an Internet Cafe becomes over time adept at computer repair, we trained someone in the village.

We found a cheap old photocopier, copying is a great business, always in demand. Old photocopier also meant older people came in, something they don’t do if it’s computers only, and they stop and chat and loose some fear of PC’s.

Digital Cameras & Fax Machine

Oddly with digital cameras we found that printing out photos at our last shop, and at the site of where we want to open in Ghana, the demand is huge. Fax machines are always in demand and the mark up is huge. Many businesses need a fax, not email, must be a fax and are willing to pay. Our fax machine was one of our best income sources.

Now an Internet cafe is the last place to rent books, but it’s full of kids, and there are no libraries in our areas, so we’d buy books and comics at second hand markets, then but them in our shelves, and rent them out. Along with school stationary, paper pens, rubbers, rulers. All the things kids needs.

Extend Your Reach


There will be ways to connect your site, Satellite guys are hurting, so find some other cybercafés and buy in bulk, be there waiting, change your game.

And most importantly, add a WiFi system, extend the reach of your Cyber Cafe! Your cafe doesn’t end with the walls! Buy a cheap buy good system like Ubiquiti and you’ll find the mobile data users switching to you if you can get a good backhaul. The more customers you get, the better a broadband deal you can negotiate.

Don’t worry too much about licensing. Look to offer it to schools, enabling you to buy more bandwidth cheaper, and your then exempt from expensive licenses.

Eventually you’ll be a broadband supplier. It’s how big companies start.

Our Impact

OK – and how much more profit did we make than a regular Internet cafe? Over 50% more profit. That’s significant. 50% more than a normal cybercafe.

Demand is coming, along with a list of needs such a good e-education booths, all sorts of opportunities. Cybercafes will there to offer it.

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4 Comments to “How cybercafes can thrive in a modern mobile Internet world”

  1. ruralict says:

    oddly you mention that fax was much requested.. we were running an internet cafe until beginning of this year but the fax was only asked for 2 – 3 times. Photocopying is indeed big business, this alone sometimes made much more money than any other service in the cafe.

    Another thing you don’t mention that greatly worked for us is helping our users check their mail or sign up or use facebook or send emails to friends and relatives! We signed up over 200 users with free email addresses who in turn became regular clients coming back to check their mails and print them as well. Our cafe was known as the only place where you can get help to check or write email to your friends.

    Setting apart 2 or 3 machines for games was another very profitable service for our cafe especially during the school holidays. Often the young ones would quickly become very interested in how computers work and sign up to learn how to use keyboard, typing tutor lessons and office.

    thanks for sharing, always very nice to read how others are doing it. Sustainability is the buzz word in the Internet cafe business considering that the Internet is still a bit more expensive. John

  2. hawkerj says:

    Yes – writing emails on behalf of others we called “E-Scribes”.

    Just as in the 70’s and 80’s I saw in Singapore professional writers writing letters for Chinese laborers (Scribes) we have young kids doing this as well. The girl in the photo did this often.

    Was a great income stream.

    I like gaming!

    Teaches kids speed around a keyboard and is also a good income stream but we limit it on a 2 hour per kid per day. during the week on school days.

    Faxes I suspect may vary per country.

    Some countries are very “Fax Centric” needing them for transactions, Asia definitely is. Thailand, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore are all common destinations and receiving sites for business and government.


  3. Mark Nissen says:

    Great ideas, I wish I’d thought of this!

  4. kariuki says:

    Yes, I designed something like that in Nairobi central business district some years ago and the financial projections tally. It was never built but the need still exsits and the theory holds true.

    This is particularly so when specialist software such as accounting, programming or CADD packages have been loaded in the workstations, so that briefcase professionals can operate. It ensures a full house daily.