Africa can “accelerate technology for the world”, in particular through leading the way with white space broadband connectivity, according to Paul Garnett, director of technology policy at Microsoft.
Garnett told HumanIPO white space technology has an important role to play in bridging the digital divide in Africa, and is a viable solution to achieving universal, affordable broadband access.
“TV white spaces technology is definitely an important part of addressing the digital divide, although it’s not the only solution, it’s fundamental to the mix,” Garnett said.
“As seen by our pilot projects in Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa, TV white spaces has already proved to play an important role in helping to reduce the cost of broadband access for the underserved.”
According to Garnett, one of the key benefits of white space technology is that it is affordable for providers to roll out and operate, and as such a cheap service can be offered to low-income internet users.
“Through our pilot projects we have been able to deliver broadband access for under US$5 per month, per user, on average. In many underserved rural and low-income areas where people are earning only US$500 per year, this is the most affordable access they can receive, much more than the expensive plans offered by mobile service providers,” he said.
“The bandwidth may not be as fast as that offered by mobile operators, but it provides access for those who would never be able to afford it.”
Through its pilot projects across Africa, Microsoft has proven the technology is not limited to servicing single buildings or campuses but is scalable, Garnett said, with solar-powered base stations trialled in Kenya achieving connectivity across a 13 kilometre range.
However, the main obstacle to the takeoff of white space technology on a broader scale in Africa is the lack of regulation, according to Garnett.
“Although there has been an increase in interest from regulators in Africa, we haven’t seen anything yet that puts fundamental laws and regulations in place,” he said.
“South Africa is the most advanced in this respect with ICASA very close to issuing a regulatory proceeding later this year. Hopefully, we’ll see other African countries following.
“Although companies with temporary authority aren’t prohibited from piloting the technology, regulations are vital for rolling the technology out on a broader scale. But any time you have a new technology the regulators are cautious. But as they can see it working and benefiting their people, they are becoming more confident.”
With the technology advancing and proving successful, and governments increasingly willing to engage and regulate for white space deployments, Garnett said Africa can lead the world in terms of addressing broadband shortages through innovative technologies.
“Interestingly, the regulatory process in the UK, Canada and Singapore is being informed by proof of concept deployments being hosted in Africa,” Garnett said.
“This is just another example of how Africa can accelerate technology for the world, which is the belief on which the 4Afrika Initiative is built.
“Africa no longer needs to take what is given by the developed markets, so it’s a bit of reversal!”
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