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Google to build wireless networks across Africa

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Search giant Google intends to finance, build and help operate wireless networks from sub-Saharan Africa to Southeast Asia, hoping to connect a billion or so people in emerging countries to the internet, the Wall Street Journal reported late last week.

The internet search giant -- which has for years espoused universal web access -- is employing a patchwork quilt of technologies and holding discussions with regulators from South Africa to Kenya, the WSJ cited people familiar with the strategy as saying.

Access to the vast trove of information on the internet, and the tools to make use of it, is considered key to lifting economies up the value chain. But countries are often hampered by the vast sums needed to build infrastructure, thorny regulations or geographical terrain.

To reach its goal, Google, which benefits the more people have access to its search and other internet services, is lobbying regulators to use white spaces technology reserved for television broadcasts, which at lower frequencies can pass through buildings and over longer distances, the WSJ reported.

It is also working on providing low-cost cellphones and employing balloons or blimps to transmit signals over hundreds of square miles from high altitudes.

The company has already begun several small-scale trials, including in Cape Town, South Africa, where it is using a base station in conjunction with wireless access boxes to broadcast signals over several miles, the newspaper reported.

Chief Executive Larry Page has made no secret of his plans to use his company to work toward broader, non-profit goals. Google on Friday declined to comment on its plans.

In the meantime, though, software giant Microsoft has also looked to connect more Africans to the internet using technologies such as ‘white spaces’.

Earlier this month, it was reported that Microsoft plans to launch a trial network using television white-spaces spectrum in South Africa’s Limpopo province.

Microsoft has thus far trialled white spaces networks Kenya and Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania.

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