Last week Microsoft launched a television white-space spectrum pilot in several Limpopo schools. The pilot utilises unused portions of the radio frequency spectrum reserved for broadcasting to deliver internet access.
In order to build the network and deliver educational resources, Microsoft partnered with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Department of Science and Technology, and Multisource.
Local Microsoft MD, Mteto Nyati says that the aim of the pilot is to show how white-spaces spectrum can be used to deliver broadband for education and business in rural communities. They are pushing for the regulation of the space so that these projects can be deployed throughout South Africa.
Nyati adds, “We need to enable our citizens to live, work and play on the global stage. Almost 60% of employees in a recent 21st century skills study said they developed most of the skills they use in their current jobs outside of school. Imagine if we could swing that around by giving them access to affordable cloud services, devices and broadband, as well as with teacher training programmes such as Partners in Learning, to equip our young learners with the skills they need to become the workforce of tomorrow.”
Microsoft’s white-space pilot has been granted a year-long licence from ICASA to use the TV spectrum in Limpopo with an option to extend the period, provided it is not utilised for commercial purposes.
The project is powered by solar-powered base stations which have been deployed at five secondary schools, and teachers and students will be given tablet computers to use in the classroom with Microsoft providing training to the teachers to ensure they get the best from the technology.
Nyati, says the focus of the pilot is to help meet the government’s goal of providing low-cost broadband access to the majority of South Africans by 2020. The pilot project is part of the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative and aims to help ignite Africa’s economic development and improve its global competitiveness through innovation, world-class skills and affordable access. The South African trial follows the launch of similar pilots in Ghana, Tanzania and Kenya.
There has however been some commentary in the industry that white-space based internet may not be a sustainable solution for Africa’s internet needs.
In a session on TV white-spaces held at the African Telecommunications Union Digital Migration Summit last week in Nairobi, it was argued that TV white-spaces do not necessarily provide the grand solution that was expected, as this solution still needs to undergo more trials and be better regulated, with a proper business model built around it, before it can become a viable solution.