Microsoft has launched a pilot project in rural Limpopo province, South Africa that aims to deliver high-speed and affordable broadband to underserved communities using so-called “white spaces” technology.
The focus of the pilot will be to prove that TV white spaces can be used to meet the South African government’s goals of providing low-cost access for a majority of South Africans by 2020.
The pilot is a joint effort between Microsoft, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the University of Limpopo and the local network builder Multisource. It will use TV white spaces and solar-powered base stations to provide low-cost wireless broadband access to five secondary schools in remote parts of the Limpopo province.
The project will use the University of Limpopo as a hub for a white space network deployment that will provide nearby schools in local communities with wireless connectivity. The project will also provide each of the five schools with Windows tablets, projectors, teacher laptops and training, education-related content, solar panels for device charging where there is no access to electricity, and other support.
Launching the pilot project at the start of the National Science Week in Polokwane, Microsoft SA managing director Mteto Nyati said the project was initiated as part of Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative, which aims to provide access, skills development and innovation opportunities to young people and entrepreneurs across the continent.
“Technology holds enormous potential for many aspects of development, but is particularly key to areas like education and healthcare. Broadband Internet access is therefore crucial to giving learners the 21st century skills they need to find jobs and participate in the economy,” said Nyati.
“However, affordability remains a formidable barrier to broadband access in many parts of South Africa. Reducing the cost of broadband access will mean millions more South Africans will get online. This will create new opportunities for education, healthcare, commerce and the delivery of government services across the country.”
Microsoft white space pilots in Kenya and Tanzania have proven that white spaces technology is a viable solution for high-speed access in rural areas, even those not attached to the national power grid.
Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom welcomed the launch of the pilot, saying global experience showed that access to broadband networks could provide greater economic development and education opportunities in rural areas.
“We see a truly connected future in which all of South Africa’s major cities, towns and villages will be connected to affordable internet, thereby facilitating the country’s mass entry into the knowledge and information economy,” said Minister Hanekom.
Nyati said that through a combination of connected classrooms, devices and relevant services, “anywhere, anytime” learning would provide a range of benefits for students, teachers and administration of education, including:
· The development of 21st century skills for employability;
· Improved education outcomes through better access to resources and learning opportunities;
· Personalised learning for learners;
· Teacher professional development opportunities and access to other teachers across South Africa and globally, and
· Improved administration and management of education.
Microsoft’s efforts to increase access to affordable broadband services using white space technology have spanned the globe, including pilots completed or underway in Kenya, Tanzania, the UK, Singapore and in the Philippines. In addition to these on-the-ground deployments, Microsoft is advocating for laws and regulations that promote more efficient and effective spectrum utilisation as a member of the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance, a global organisation launched in Singapore last month.
The core goal of the 4Afrika Initiative is to accelerate economic development for Africa, and the value combination of access plus devices and services is core to Microsoft’s white spaces efforts in Africa. It is this combination which the company believes will create real value for the communities in which this technology is deployed.
“Microsoft has always been driven by the promise to help democratise access to technology for the world, and our work on white spaces is one way we’re delivering on that promise for people in even the most remote locations,” said Paul Garnett, director at Microsoft’s Technology Policy Group. “This creates opportunities to partner with governments throughout the world to address the needs of underserved communities through innovative technologies and adopt forward-looking regulation that allows for more efficient use of spectrum, and for the benefit of all.”