Thursday, 6 June 2013

Microsoft rolls out white space Internet in Africa

Africa hides a huge technological potential that, with support from the private sector and cooperation between African regions, can transform the continent into a more competitive player in the global market, concluded speakers at the introduction of Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative in Brussels on 5 June.
The project was launched in February aiming to improve Africa's competitiveness worldwide, by focusing in three areas: world-class skills, access and innovation.

Microsoft 4Afrika
Credit: Microsoft 4Afrika

Fernando de Sousa, General Manager for Africa Initiatives at Microsoft, explained that by 2018 Africa will have a workforce of 500 million people. A big part of them will probably be entrepreneurs and will come up with new ideas, which can be turn into real projects and businesses if they have access to the necessary tools.

Microsoft's 4Afrika facilitates online and offline educational platforms, gives access to technology and cloud services, and works together with African entrepreneurs who want to innovate in their country of origin.

“This is not philanthropy, this is business development,” stated de Sousa, who added that “at the end of the day we will turn Africa into a creator of solutions.”

But, how can African people have access to technology and the Internet? Besides giving them Microsoft devices, such as tablets or smartphones, the project aims to use “white spaces” of spectrum that are not being used in the continent.

The project entitled Mawingu (cloud in Kiswahili) is the first attempt to take advantage from TV frequencies not used locally and solar-power, which is a plentiful source in Africa, in order to deliver low-cost, high-speed wireless broadband.

Mawingu gives Internet access to areas where even electricity is not yet available, and allows people to communicate with other regions, with doctors and learn new things every day. Access to books is not always possible in small villages, but tablets and PCs can empower children to be more creative and innovative.

This project on “white spaces” was launched for the first time in Kenya, where currently 6,000 people have Internet access. De Sousa explained that Microsoft expect to increase this figure to 68,000 in the coming months and to 31 million (the whole Kenyan country) in the future.

Back in January, Microsoft launched the first European Spectrum Observatory, which is being used to localise white spaces in Europe, but also in Africa. According to Andrew Stirling, from firm's Technology Policy Group, the observatory calculated that the value generated by the use of Wi-Fi in the continent is $69 million per year.

However, there are still challenges that Microsoft and other private companies have to face in Africa. Like the low competitiveness, lack of a solid economic structure and a big number of under-managed sectors, explained David O’Sullivan, Chief Operating Officer of EEAS.

Despite technology has the potential to transform Africa and can give the continent the possibility of overtake strong powers, it still has to be self-sustained, achieve political stability and create a proper investment climate, concluded O’Sullivan.

Source: New Europe

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