Software testing services in Malawi

Monday, December 22, 2008

Are you an individual or an organization in Malawi?

Has someone developed a software system for your organization or business?

If the answer is YES! Then we have very good news for you. We are pleased to inform you that we can professionally test your software system to check if it conforms to software engineering standards. In particular, we will test if the software meets your business requirements. And of course, we will also test its usability, its reliability and other software engineering parameters...

Be it database systems, web-based applications, accounting information systems, health information systems, statistical software systems, e-learning systems, etc.......

We are based right in the heart of Blantyre in southern Malawi. Call us on 04188893 or drop us an email at bfkankuzi (at)


Different page formats in Microsoft Word 2007

Friday, December 19, 2008

I normally use LaTex in preparation of my documents. I don't use Microsoft Word because it is very "crude" in many simple features for document preparation like bibliography generation, page renumbering etc.

This other time a colleague wanted me to help with the problem of numbering a Word 2007 document with different page formats. It took us a lot of hours of googling to find the solution. In our googling, we noted there are also a lot of people out there who spent their time to accomplish such a trivial task and we could not find a clear answer to the problem. However, we managed to come up with a solution after several trial and error attempts. Hence we hereby share the solution for this trivial but time wasting task.

  1. Place cursor at a point in your document that would separate two sections of your document.
  2. Go to Page Layout menu then click on breaks
  3. Then choose section break (not page breaks). You will then have your document separated into two sections at the point you put your cursor.
  4. You can now apply appropriate page numbering formats for each of the sections. You can modify the page number formats through the footer or header.


A decade of the Internet in Malawi

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

As Malawi joins the rest of Africa in commemorating the 2008 ICT week, this should also be time for reflection on the state of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the country. This article attempts to chronicle the history of the Internet in Malawi as well as current challenges to Internet accessibility in Malawi.

The early 1990’s saw the birth of email services in Malawi. This was in the Physics Department of Chancellor College of the University of Malawi through the UNIMA E-Net project under the leadership of Dr Paulos Nyirenda. The UNIMA E-Net project was providing email services using FidoNet technology because that time around the Internet was not yet introduced in Malawi.

FidoNet is an electronic mail network with over 15,000 mail nodes world wide. FidoNet is independent of currently the most popular global network of computers known as the Internet. Over FidoNet, users can send private email messages to each other as well as share files. Although FidoNet computers can also get connected to the Internet, the popularity of the Internet has greatly diminished worldwide usage of other public computer networks like FidoNet. Malawi indeed also joined the bandwagon in adopting the Internet in 1997.

The UNIMA E-Net project provided email and internet services not only to the Chancellor College campus but also to surrounding areas in Zomba. Services within Chancellor College campus were mainly provided through a Local Area Network (LAN). Surrounding areas accessed UNIMA E-Net services through dial-ups over phone lines. Having worked at the UNIMA E-Net project in the later years of its inception, I can still remember how it was becoming difficult to satisfy demand for Internet services at Chancellor College and indeed to other surrounding areas of Zomba.

The first private Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the country, Malawi Net, was formed in 1997. In 1999, Malawi SDNP, a semi-government owned and UNDP funded ISP, was formed. However, the new millennium saw the formation of new private ISPs in Malawi like Africa-Online and later on Globe Internet Company. The fixed phone provider, Malawi Telecommunications Limited (MTL), has also recently joined the bandwagon of Internet Service Providers in the country.

Malawi SDNP has played a significant role in the development and accessibility of the Internet in Malawi. For example, internet access in University of Malawi colleges was introduced through the Malawi SDNP. Malawi SDNP was responsible for providing Internet services to the Malawi Polytechnic, Kamuzu College of Nursing, Bunda College of Agriculture and also Mzuzu University. This is addition to providing internet services to private organizations and individuals in the country.

Other private ISPs have also contributed greatly to Internet accessibility in the country by providing services like wireless Internet. A proliferation of wi-fi hotspots in urban areas of the country bears testimony to this development. It is also now possible to access wireless broadband Internet in some residential areas in some urban areas of the country. In addition, it is also now possible to access Internet services through mobile phones.

Despite the gains that have been made in the provision of Internet services in Malawi by different stakeholders in the last decade, there are many challenges that need to be addressed. One of the major challenges is the prohibitive cost for one to access internet services in Malawi. However, it is important to note that high costs to Internet access in Malawi are just symptomatic of the many challenges Internet Service Providers in the country face.

One of the major challenges facing internet service providers in Malawi is the lack of a local Internet Exchange Point (IXP) in our country. An IXP is physical infrastructure that allows different Internet Service Providers to exchange Internet traffic between their autonomous systems by means of mutual peering agreements. IXPs are typically used by ISPs to reduce dependency on their respective upstream providers hence improving cost savings, data transfer efficiency and fault-tolerance. For example, here in Malawi, an email message sent from a Malawi Net address to a Malawi SDNP address can not be sent directly to Malawi SDNP yet both of these ISPs are right here in Malawi. Instead the email message will have to go to an upstream service provider for Malawi Net and then the message has to be routed to the upstream service provider for Malawi SDNP which will in turn route the message to Malawi SDNP servers in Blantyre. It is important to note that both of these upstream service providers are usually outside Africa. This means that data which was supposed to be exchanged locally within Malawi in Africa has to pass through Europe or North America where these Internet upstream providers are based. This is unnecessary wastage of upstream bandwidth since our ISPs in Malawi may unnecessarily use upstream bandwidth for traffic which can typically be routed directly amongst them.

Another challenge in accessing Internet services in the country is the high cost of using the .mw domain. Currently Malawi SDNP administers the .mw domain on behalf of the Malawi government. For any patriotic Malawian, it is very necessary to have our own email addresses and websites to be using the .mw domain. However, this is not the case. We normally see .com and .net domains being in use by many Malawian companies and individuals. This is because these foreign domain names are cheaper to acquire than our own .mw domain. As an example, a good number of Malawians now have blogs on the world-wide web (WWW) but very few are using the .mw domain on their blog addresses. In addition to this, how many Malawians can afford to have .mw email addresses? Because it is expensive to have our email addresses with our own .mw domain, we now see that many Malawians use, and other foreign email addresses. This has a financial implication in that accessing mail using these email addresses will lead one to use upstream bandwidth since email servers for these email addresses are outside Africa. This scenario is not only specific to Malawi but to many African countries because of lack of internet infrastructure.

Another major challenge is to bring ICT services, the Internet in particular, to rural areas of Malawi. Currently ICT services in the country are concentrated in urban areas. For example, it is easy to find Internet cafes in most urban areas. This is not the case in most rural areas. Obviously lack of necessary infrastructure like electricity and telephony services are contributing to this state of affairs. However, the Minister of Information, Mrs Patricia Kaliati, deserves special mention for her vigorous advocacy in encouraging ICT service providers to take their services to rural areas. Since 80% of Malawians live in rural areas, it is very necessary that this population also benefit from ICTs for their socio-economic development.

Finally, the development of an optic fiber network in the country will obviously lead to improved telecommunication services in the country. With the development of the submarine optic fiber Internet backbone along the eastern African coast of the Indian Ocean, many African countries stand to benefit from this NEPAD initiative. I look forward to the day when our optic fiber network in Malawi will get connected to this submarine Internet backbone because it is only when this happens that we will say bye to expensive VSAT links.

*** The author, Bennett Kankuzi, is a computer scientist/software engineer based in Blantyre, Malawi ****


Access to telecommunication services in Malawi

Friday, December 12, 2008

Reliable telecommunication networks are one of the key components of building an information-driven society. Other key components include robust computer hardware and software platforms. Robust systems will be resilient such that they perform satisfactorily as long as the system load is within the limits of the systems’ operating capacity. However, it is important to note that no matter how robust a system can be, its load has to be within its operating capacity. Exceeding the capacity of a system will obviously lead to persistent system failures hence seriously affecting the reliability of a system. Should we then say that mobile phone networks in the country are exhibiting symptoms of system overload?

An MTL billboard advertising LibertyNet wireless fixed phones

It is a fact that making calls on mobile phones in our country is characterized by dropped calls, unexplained network unavailability, undelivered text messages, truncated text messages among other problems. We know that we are always told that the systems are undergoing upgrades. But as esteemed subscribers, we have a right to know when are the so called system upgrades going to end. It is clear that mobile phone networks in our country can not scale up with the number of subscribers. Introduction of more mobile phone service operators in our country will definitely help to absorb the ‘heat’ which has proven too much to be withstood by Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM) and Zain Malawi.

In addition to this, it is my opinion that the cost of calling using mobile phones is unjustifiably expensive in our country. Moreover, mobile phone call charges in this country are not transparent. It is a fact that mobile phone service operators in our country do not publicly announce their call charges. It is only the fixed phone service provider, Malawi Telecommunication Limited (MTL), which publishes in the media their call charges. Should we then speculate on why our mobile phone service operators seem to be ‘hiding’ their call charges? Should we speculate that they want to maximize profits for their shareholders at the expense of poor Malawians? As subscribers, we need not to be blinded by cosmetic charity works and product promotions conducted by these companies because they just benefit a few people. Obviously, what we need most are affordable call rates that would benefit all.

The introduction of wireless fixed phones by MTL was welcomed by many as a positive step in providing affordable fixed phone access to many. However, it is very difficult to find these phones in MTL shops. This is despite the fact that we constantly see billboards advertising these ‘Liberty’ and ‘CM121L’ phones. One then wonders what kind of advertising strategy this is? A company advertising a product it does not have in stock? Clearly, MTL is missing a golden opportunity to broaden its revenue base by failing to meet the demand for these wireless fixed phones. Instead of focusing on ‘offloading’ some of its workers, MTL has all the chances to expand in a country with one of the lowest fixed phone line penetrations in Africa.

Indeed it is high time that telecommunication service providers in our country start expanding to meet the demands of a growing information-driven society. However, as consumers, we also expect reasonable service charges from these service providers so that telecommunication services in the country are accessible to many Malawians!


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