Microsoft, in collaboration with the government of Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Communications and Indigo Telecom Ltd., has launched a pilot project to deliver low-cost wireless broadband access to previously unserved locations near Nanyuki and Kalema, Kenya. The network utilizes TV white spaces and solar-powered base stations to deliver broadband access and create new opportunities for commerce, education, healthcare and delivery of government services.
This pilot is part of Microsoft’s broader 4Afrika Initiative, to help improve the continent’s global competitiveness. A core goal of the 4Afrika Initiative is to facilitate access to technology for the masses and to empower African students, entrepreneurs, developers and others to become active global citizens.
TV white spaces, the unused portions of wireless spectrum in the frequency bands generally used for television, are particularly well-suited for delivering low-cost broadband access to rural and other unserved communities.
Radio signals in the TV bands travel over longer distances and penetrate more obstacles than other types of radio signals and, therefore, require fewer base stations to provide ubiquitous coverage.
Microsoft intends to use this pilot and other similar initiatives to encourage African governments to make the needed legal and regulatory changes that would allow this type of technology to be deployed continent-wide.
“Microsoft was built on the idea that technology should be accessible and affordable to the masses, and to date, this promise has remained unfulfilled in Africa,” said Louis Otieno, Legal and Corporate Affairs director for Africa initiatives at Microsoft. “This technology has the potential to deliver on the promise of universal and affordable high-speed wireless broadband for Africa, and we are proud and humbled to be part of this important effort.”
The project is the first deployment of TV white space technology in Africa targeted at communities without access to broadband or electricity and is a result of a memorandum of understanding that presents a framework of cooperation between Microsoft, the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications and industry partner Indigo Telecom.
To date, work in this space in Africa has exclusively focused on demonstrating the technical feasibility of using TV white space technology. This project takes an important next step forward by instead focusing on assessing the commercial feasibility of delivering low-cost access using TV white space technology.
The initial installation near Nanyuki includes five customer locations: the Burguret Dispensary (healthcare clinic), Male Primary School, Male Secondary School, Gakawa Secondary School and Laikipia District Community Library. The installation in Kalema will begin with a base station that connects to a government of Kenya agricultural extension office. Fourteen more locations on the network will be added in the coming months. The network will also feature white space radios manufactured by Adaptrum.
Utilizing the latest Window 8 tablets, Windows 8 applications and Microsoft Office 365, Indigo will provide computer labs and instruction to each school and the library and work with community leaders and local companies to identify the most beneficial services and applications for each location, including in the agriculture and education spaces.
“Indigo is committed to finding and deploying the best solutions for our customers’ needs, which in this case means bringing broadband access to previously unserved communities,” said Peter Henderson, chairman of Indigo Telecom, the local Internet service provider partnering in the project. “Beyond simply providing access, we have given the community a real stake in the pilot’s success by creating a cooperative to manage the project, an effort that included hiring and training a local community member to serve as the lab technician.”
“TV white spaces and efficient spectrum management represent a creative, tested and affordable way of extending broadband access to unserved communities,” said Paul Garnett, director in Microsoft’s Technology Policy Group. “Kenya is one of the countries leading the way in using this innovative solution, and we hope regulators around the world take note and develop legal frameworks that support broader commercial deployment of TV white space technology in their own jurisdictions.”