Microsoft’s White Space Technology Brings Affordable Internet to Rural Africa

Categories: ICT , IGD In the News , Member News

This post is part of a series on information and communications technologies (ICT) in Africa. IGD’s ICT Initiative works with leading companies to find alternative ways to deliver affordable broadband to underserved populations in Africa. For more information, please contact Senior Manager Allison Spector

IGD Frontier Leader Microsoft is changing the way Africans living in rural areas access the internet. Normally, those living outside of large city centers must travel long distances, or at the very least spend an inordinate amount of time, energy, and money to log onto Facebook or check the news. However, new technology that accesses vacant TV and radio “white space” (essentially unassigned channels) allows people in remote areas to check the weather without going outside. This has huge implications for the way people learn, communicate, and live their lives in rural areas.

Microsoft, as part of its 4Afrika Initiative, is currently driving pilot projects that utilize white space bandwidth in Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa. The projects utilize solar powered base-stations; partnerships with governments, educational institutions, and private telecom companies; and relationships with rural communities to provide power and internet access to places where it was not readily available before. Although the technology is still experimental, these pilot projects demonstrate the feasibility of using white spaces to deliver broadband and should help to convince government regulators to allocate spectrum for that purpose.

MICROSOFT’S WHITE SPACES PILOT IN KENYA

Microsoft is changing the way in which private ICT companies work in developing areas by building strong relationships with local and national governments. Louis Otieno, Microsoft’s Director of Legal & Corporate Affairs for Africa Initiatives, believes that the company’s work in Kenya “serves as strong proof that true commercial deployment of white spaces technology not only makes good business sense, but could have a key role in delivering on the promise of universal access for Africa–significantly reducing barriers to affordable broadband access faced by almost half the world’s population.”

By accessing an ‘old’ technology and using it in a new way, Microsoft is attacking a critical limitation to providing internet connectivity to last-mile users. Because the company uses white space and relies on solar power, there is no need to build an extensive and expensive infrastructure. Microsoft also has demonstrated potential to significantly reduce the cost of broadband and internet access, which means that more people can get online more frequently. In addition, the company is at the forefront of providing devices to people in rural areas. Doctors, teachers, and students now have internet access on Windows-powered tablets that allow them to diagnose an individual’s stomach pain, plan a lesson based on Google maps, or explore Wikipedia.

> Watch IGD’s interview with Frontier Leader Louis Otieno, director, Legal and Corporate Affairs—Africa Initiatives, Microsoft Corporation