Mteto Nyati, Managing Director, Microsoft South Africa
Africa is big, really big. In terms of land mass, China, India, the USA and most of Western Europe could all easily fit within its footprint. This size presents its own problems, not the least of which is the difficulty of connecting people to the Internet. The usual copper and fiber combination often doesn’t cut it, especially in rural areas where more than 60 percent of the population resides.
To bridge the divide, we been working to deploy affordable broadband services using white space technology (unused TV frequencies). Having launched pilots in Kenya and Tanzania under the 4Afrika Initiative – and in the UK and Singapore, we are excited to be bringing this technology to South Africa. Five secondary schools in remote parts of the Limpopo province will now benefit from the combination of low-cost wireless broadband, plus great Windows devices and relevant services for education.
Around 28 percent of South Africa’s 50 million people are online, according to the latest report published by the Digital Media and Marketing Association and Echo Consultancy, and South Africa’s minister for science and technology, Derek Hanekom, has set a target of getting 80 percent connected by 2020. Achieving this goal would enable many more in South Africa to take advantage of the burgeoning digital economy. Through this pilot and other efforts, we at Microsoft are deeply committed to helping the government succeed in this important effort.
Education is fundamental to the economic development of any country, and it is education that stands to gain the most from this particular white spaces project. Using the University of Limpopo as a hub for a new white space network which is delivered through solar-powered base stations, the project will also provide each of the five schools with Windows tablets, projectors, teacher laptops and training, solar panels for device re-charging, and education-related content.
In Singapore last month, Microsoft – as a member of the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance – was advocating laws and regulations that promote better use of spectrum frequencies. The results so far are a testament to the power of the Internet, while the 4Afrika Initiative shows that intelligent use of unused spectrum frequencies can help connect the unconnected.
Of course technology access creates enormous potential, but we believe it’s this end-to-end package of access plus devices and services which enables true advancement and economic development. This is why we launched 4Afrika, an initiative designed to empower and educate African youth, entrepreneurs, developers, and business and civic leaders to turn great ideas into a reality that can help their community, their country, the continent and beyond. Starting here in Limpopo, we are looking forward to working with South Africa to bring more and more of our own online.