HumanIPO reported last week Indigo Telecom was developing a solar-powered wireless broadband network taking advantage of the new technology.
Speaking to HumanIPO, Peter Henderson, Indigo Telecom’s chief executive officer, explained how the technology is set to connect the expanses of Africa and change the lives of millions.
“The most difficult challenges to providing internet connection in Africa are the lack of infrastructure and the distances,” said Henderson. “This technology will enable us to connect rural Africa.”
White space technology makes use of leftover spectrum frequencies - often between the 400 mHz and 800 mHz levels. “It’s like the white noise between channels on TV,” said Henderson.
Whereas normal Wi-Fi signal can transmit to a radius of roughly 200 metres, white-space technology allows transmission across a 10 kilometre radius, hence its potential to improve penetration across rural areas of Africa.
Kenya is the first country to see the technology rolled out commercially through the Mawingo project - a partnership between Indigo, Microsoft and the government of Kenya.
The project has ambitious targets, with Henderson claiming the whole of Kenya could be connected within two years. Educational institutions and healthcare clinics will also be targeted in a bid to provide access to the “waterfall of knowledge” available on the internet.
Attaining these lofty targets depends upon the interaction between the partners in the project, explains Henderson.
“Utilising the strengths of all three organisations will allow penetration across the whole of Kenya,” he said.
The project also comes at a significant cost. To connect one individual via an Internet hotspot would cost US$1,500 - including the solar power and tablet equipment needed to connect an individual. However, to connect a school with 300 students giving each student at least four hours of Internet access per week would cost US$25,000 in total. These costs will in part be covered for by Microsoft under its 4Africa initiative.
Once installed, white-space Internet connection will be accessed by users in two ways. Users may “bring their own device”, for those who have access to smartphones or computers. However, the Mawingo project will also see tablets and laptops distributed to selected schools and healthcare clinics, where the partners will provide training on how to use the equipment.
The training, says Henderson is an important element in the connecting of rural communities.
“Each school will have an ICT lab with an instructor, who will train the teachers in using the equipment. The teachers will train the students, and I suspect the students will teach their parents; with the result that knowledge and access to knowledge will penetrate rural communities.”
While Indigo hopes to roll out white-space technology across Africa - the company is already looking for partners in over 10 other African countries - Henderson notes that the challenges are still substantial.
“There is no reason why white-space technology should not be immediately available across Africa,” says Henderson, although conceding that country and private partners need to be found, and the necessary capital needs to be raised.
“We have a huge task ahead, and it is very exciting. So our future plans and efforts will focus on Africa for now.”