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Google, Microsoft pilot TV white space projects in Kenya and South Africa

Rebecca Wanjiku | April 26, 2013
The idea is to develop technology to allow smaller companies to get into the ISP business.

"Microsoft believes we can achieve a range of at least 10 kilometers around a base station using a single TV channel, with 16Mbps throughput to end users; ultimately, we feel we will need two base stations to power 20 locations," said Paul Garnett, director of the Microsoft Technology Policy Group. "The latency that we are seeing at the moment is about the same as any typical broadband deployment."

Like many countries, Africa faces major challenges in spectrum pricing, with licenses mainly available to large companies that have the money to pay for them. For prospective ISPs and companies without a large revenue base, unlicensed spectrum creates opportunities for entrepreneurship.

"Lack of available spectrum has allowed mobile operators to operate essentially as oligopolies," said Steve Song, the founder of Village Telco, a company pushing for affordable connectivity in rural areas. "Increasing access to spectrum will open the doors to new market entrants who will hopefully shake things up a bit, as we saw Airtel shake up the market when they arrived in Kenya."

There is no global policy on TV white spaces. Countries like the U.K. and the U.S. are currently testing white space usage. The tests in Kenya and South Africa are meant to check on commercial feasibility of delivering access using unique and innovative business models.

"This is the first globally harmonized opportunity to use dynamic access technologies and techniques, which enable radio communications devices to opportunistically transmit on available radio spectrum, as seen in our white spaces pilots and trials," Garnett said.

Both Microsoft and Google are expecting the regulators in the two countries to develop policies and guidelines that will be unique to the region.


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