Microsoft’s Broadband Pilot Hits Africa

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Microsoft plans to pilot wireless broadband service in Kenya’s Rift Valley using “white space” drawn from unused television frequencies which will be used in combination with solar-powered base stations. The pilot is called “Mawingu,” which means cloud in Kiswahili.

Wayan Vota, Senior Director of Inveneo, a nonprofit that provides technology to developing countries, was impressed by Microsoft’s plan. “Many people have been trying to crack the nut of how to provide low-cost broadband, and white space is a huge opportunity,” said Vota. “Microsoft should get a lot of credit for being the first to try and scale that in Africa.”

Microsoft will partner with the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications, and the Kenyan Internet service provider Indigo Telecom Ltd in order to provide low-cost, high-speed, wireless broadband to 20 underserved communities. The increased access to broadband will create new opportunities for commerce, education, healthcare and delivery of government services across Kenya. Microsoft intends to establish similar pilots in Eastern and Southern Africa in the next few months in order to test its commercial feasibility. The pilots will ideally encourage African countries to pass legislation that will allow the television white space technology to be established throughout Africa and potentially deliver universal broadband access.

Microsoft will make big money if the pilot kicks off as planned. ABI Research, which specializes in global technology markets, forecasts that wireline and broadband services will increase to $251 billion due to the high demand. Yet, rising competition has led to a price-slashing mentality that has resulted in a decline of cable, DSL and fiber broadband in the past few years. Jay Saunders, VP and practice director of core forecasting for ABI Research attribute the decline to the increasing competition.  “The majority of operators are trying to offer lower prices to capture a larger market share,” said Saunders. The U.S. wireline has managed to stay strong in this tough market, as is evidenced by its increase in revenues from $41 billion in 2011 to $43 billion in 2012. The future of U.S. wireline looks promising as Fiber to the Home, 7% of the U.S.’s broadband revenue, is expected to reach $81.6 billion by 2018. If successful, Microsoft’s Mawingu pilot will gain a strong foothold in the current competitive market with its low-cost and high-speed broadband.

– Kasey Beduhn

Source: Microsoft News Center, Devex Impact, Fierce Telecom
Photo: TechNet

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