Microsoft, Spectra Wireless launch Africa's first commercial white spaces network

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Microsoft’s partnership with Spectra Wireless in Ghana to launch Africa’s first commercial service network using so-called TV white spaces could be the first out of a series of such offerings.

The entire telecommunications spectrum is never fully utilized by radio, TV, emergency services or mobile services, noted Frank McCosker, the general manager for Affordable Access & Smart Financing at Microsoft Africa Initiatives. The unused areas are referred to as spectrum white space.

TV white spaces could deliver high-quality Web access via a basic antenna and low-cost base stations, at a cheaper rate than other broadband services. It is different from other point-to-multipoint, last-mile access technologies because of its ability to leverage the UHF frequencies to trade off range, obstacle penetration and power consumption issues.

Spectra Wireless offers the commercial service to students on university campuses via prepaid cards. Students can purchase services in a range of transmission speeds and daily, weekly and monthly packages. All packages include unlimited data for the duration of the package.

The low-speed packages, which start at just two Ghana cedi (US$0.00007) per day, have been created to cater to users with little disposable cash, while the higher speed products give users the full Internet experience that many in the developed world are used to.

As part of the packages, students can use apps including Microsoft Office 365 and the Microsoft Virtual Academy. They can also apply for zero-interest loans in partnership to purchase Internet-enabled Microsoft, Lenovo, Dell and HP devices.

Microsoft has invested more than 10 years in research and work with industry and government partners to show how white space in terrestrial television broadcast frequencies can be used in a dynamic manner to carry Wi-Fi signals, McCosker said.

“The viability of the technology has been proven in over a dozen trials and commercial deployments around the world—ranging from remote villages of Africa to the dense urban centers of Asia,” he said. Microsoft’s trial in Kenya in 2013 was the first TV white spaces network in Africa, and six pilots have been carried out to date, making the continent an incubator of new technologies and business models, he said.

Ghana’s National Communications Authority granted a commercial license that allows use of TV frequencies on a secondary basis as long as TV is not interfered with.

Microsoft is working on TV white space pilot projects across Africa, including in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia, and is currently in discussions with other governments across the continent about the technology, McCosker said.

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