NAIROBI, Kenya – Steve Song, an activist supporting the advancement of Africa’s connectivity projects, has stated in an article by Simon Allison that affordable Internet is not a luxury and “it creates efficiencies at every level from the rural farmer to the large corporation.”
A solar-powered and wireless Internet provider called Mawingu Networks is ready to take on a loan of a possible $4 million using the technology of TV white spaces to connect rural Internet users who are economically at a setback.
Conversations at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi at 2015 put TV White Space technology in the spotlight. Elizabeth Littlefield, president and CEO of Overseas Private Investment Corporation, signed a mandate with Antony Cook, Microsoft’s head of legal and corporate affairs for the Middle East and Africa to continue funding for Mawingu Networks.
Originally, Mawingu Networks benefited greatly from multiple funding providers to sustain a chain of mobile solar-powered and wireless Internet posts. Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative, USAID, Angel Investor Jim Foster and Paul G. Alien’s Vulcan Incorporation paid the network to provide last mile connectivity initiatives.
Rural areas, developing communities, satellite-dependent mobile users and anyone outside the big cities are included in the “last-mile” stretch of those without reliable or any access to the World Wide Web. Among the largest projects connecting Africa to the World Wide Web involve high-capacity, high volume undersea fiber-optic cables. These cables process 95 percent of Internet traffic in Africa.
When there is very little of this traffic passing through and very little interference, data has the capability to process at the speed of light. Those who are satellite-dependent use the satellite as a place in which to connect to the World Wide Web much like mobile users often rely on towers to do the same job. Inefficient national grids add to the internationally domestic issues causing connectivity costs to rise. Poor infrastructure in developing communities makes last-mile connections difficult to reach.
Arthur Goldstuck, who works as an analyst for South Africa Information and Communication Technology (ICT), believes Africa has yet to take advantage of broadband capacity. The International Telecommunication Union set 2015 as the deadline to transform Africa’s connectivity from relying on broadcast signals and instead relying on popular digital systems.
TV white spaces and their initiative projectors have a foothold on how else to make broadband efficient during the eventual transition to a digital Africa. TV white spaces are strictly unutilized television channels that are distributing access, services and applications.
Devices of TV white spaces provide what’s called “Super Wi-Fi,” for it penetrates multiple rooms at once, large buildings and even rough terrain with a bandwidth of 400 meters that is also flexible to 8 kilometers. It covers four times the distance and 16 times the area of regular Wi-Fi. However, they are restricted to operate at the same levels of current Wi-Fi devices.
And what’s the result? The costs supplied by the networks are much lower with more bandwidth available. The devices are also much more power-saving. TV white spaces are to operate similarly to competitors with the exception of benefits such as additional range, thanks to the TV band spectrum.
The devices are intricately maintained and automatically connected to a list of specific available channels that are checked every so often. The devices can exchange information with their database about channels, throughput, packet loss and other measures.
Regulations are yet to be placed. There are 900,000 subscribers fixed on a single operator at a time. According to Internet World Statistics, Kenya has a population of 45,010,056 with 21,273,738 Internet users as of 2014. That’s 47.3 percent of the populace that takes up 7.1 percent of total Internet users in Africa. More await connection.
Small businesses and homes of rural Africa want and need Internet access to catalyze business growth and more. Back in 2013, Google, Microsoft and regulators were working to connect rural areas by running trials in different regions with great successes using TV white spaces. Microsoft started working with the Ministry of Information and Communication in Kenya to gear Mawingu Networks and connect those without electricity or capability.
The government has been trying to think of ways to utilize the spectrum that sits available after a migration to digital TV. Small Internet service providers can offer cheap devices across Africa to benefit the economy of developing communities. TV antennas are not as costly nor create security problems as fiber-optic cables might when trying to reach the last mile.
– Katie Groe