Microsoft and Facebook are both very keen on figuring out new ways to connect the unconnected — Microsoft with its longstanding efforts to prove that a new wireless technology called white space broadband is viable, and Facebook with its drone-toting Internet.org initiative. Now the two companies have come together on a project in Ghana, West Africa, which involves the provision of wireless connectivity to students.
The pilot scheme falls under Microsoft’s 4Afrika program. It’s based on a commercial deal between Microsoft and local ISP SpectraLink Wireless and will see wireless coverage installed across the campuses and student hostels of All Nations University College and Koforidua Polytechnic. This coverage will come from a mix of technologies, including white space – Ghana is in fact the only country in West Africa so far that has given the go-ahead for white space broadband, something that Microsoft and Google are lobbying furiously for across the continent.
White space broadband effectively gathers up and glues together the little buffer gaps between the radio frequency bands being used by television channels. Aggregating these fragments of “white space” and managing them through the use of a location-based spectrum database turns out to be a good way of sneaking through wireless broadband services on otherwise unused airwaves. Check out my detailed write-up of a similar Google pilot in Cape Town, South Africa, if you want to know more – the key point there is that Google has shown white space broadband can work without interfering with the TV channels around those white spaces.
Facebook is involved here on the technology side – the social networking firm is trying to find new ways to grow in the developing world, and it clearly sees now-proven white space technology as a key tool. According to a Tuesday statement, it will collaborate with Microsoft and SpectraLink Wireless “on the policy front,” i.e. lobbying for more regulators to green-light white space usage.
According to Microsoft Technology Policy Group Director Paul Garnett:
“TV white spaces technology, when combined with other low-cost wireless technologies, such as Wi-Fi, offers a substantial opportunity for businesses, consumers and governments around the world to improve the economics of broadband network deployment and service delivery. Through these projects worldwide, we are working with local private- and public-sector partners to enable new consumer experiences, while encouraging governments to make needed legal and regulatory changes to allow this technology to be deployed more broadly.”
It’s worth noting that white space broadband isn’t just for developing nations. It could also prove very useful for rural broadband in the U.S. and elsewhere, and Microsoft is also a founding member of Taiwan’s Dynamic Spectrum Access Pilot Group, which is looking at using white spaces for hooking up internet-of-things devices.
Here’s a video about the Ghanaian pilot: