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Microsoft bringing TV white spaces broadband to Botswana, Namibia

Microsoft bringing TV white spaces broadband to Botswana, Namibia.

Technology giant Microsoft has earmarked Botswana and Namibia as the next African countries to be part of its television white spaces broadband internet project.

Television white spaces technology taps unused portions of spectrum in frequency bands to provide wireless broadband services.

To date, the technology has been rolled out by Microsoft and other partners in Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and South Africa.

The technology giant’s primary focus for these projects has been on connecting education and healthcare facilities in these countries.

And Microsoft’s technology policy group director Paul Garnett has told ITWeb Africa that Namibia and Botswana are next on the company’s sights.

“Both locations have the right combination of private and public sector partners, an identified connectivity need, and a regulator willing to give the project partners the needed authorisations to deploy the services,” Garnett told ITWeb Africa.

Opportunities to connect the developing world to the internet via white spaces are promising, according to Microsoft.

The number of people connected to the internet globally is 2.7 billion, which means more than 4 billion are not connected yet, said Garnett.

And TV white spaces potentially have the capability to connect people in more remote parts of the globe, Garnett explained to ITWeb Africa.

“One of the exciting things about TV white spaces is that you are taking wireless technologies that so far have been primarily focused on short range communication and blowing it up. So basically you’re are going from maybe 100 metres of range to 10 kilometres of range,” Garnett explained.

“It’s still low cost and you have the same spectrum efficiency. So you are able to provide broadband connection over large areas and you’re able to trade of power.

“Its the idea of taking something like Wi-Fi and putting it into TV channels that are not being used and creating broadband networks,” he said.

Despite Microsoft’s initiatives to connect peri-urban and rural communities to affordable broadband, there are some challenges that exist on the continent, Garnett told ITWeb Africa.

“Africa is an incredibly diverse place, so it’s dangerous to over-generalise. Some challenges are not unique to Africa, such as the need to get regulatory approvals. Other issues such as access to electricity are more challenging in some parts of Africa,” he said.  

However, Garnett said that for projects such as TV white spaces technology to take full effect, there needs to be partnerships.

In South Africa’s Limpopo province, for example, Microsoft has teamed up with provincial government, private companies and the local telecoms regulator.

“All of these project require public and private sector partnership. The partners would include an internet service provider to deploy and operate the network and provide internet access to the relevant communities,” he said.

“Although individual impacts are notable, most of our current projects are fairly small in scope. We are looking to use these projects as a springboard to bigger deployments delivering broader impacts,” he added.

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