TV Whitespaces Internet Projects serve different needs in different markets

Louis Otieno, Microsoft

TV White spaces has for some time been a conversation in many countries as the switch to digital TV migration from Analogue Transmission takes shape. What the migration means to many is that they will have to purchase some equipment for them to remain connected when the deadline reaches.

TV stations globally will no-longer use Analogue frequencies to air free to air channels that are usually transmitted terrestrially. To others it means that there are some frequencies that will be made available as the offload of frequency use happens. Digital TV uses a single frequency as opposed to the usual numerous frequencies.

Louis Otieno, Microsoft
Louis Otieno – Director, Microsoft 4Afrika at Microsoft

Mobile Network Operators compete with TV and radio stations for the available frequencies, once Digital migration happens there will be more space to to play from.

Here is where TV White spaces come in.

Available TV White Spaces are being used to deliver Internet access to the far fetched areas that barely have the Internet as an infrastructure, in many places they are on trial. The White Spaces project is on trial in 25 countries, with 17 of them being in Africa.

In Kenya, there are pilot trials in two towns done by Microsoft and partners called the Mawingu Project, the same applies to Tanzania. But the models are different. In Kenya the model is focused on giving internet access to the under-served and they only pay a small fee for administration of power used to run the equipment. This is expected to go a long way in making Internet access a near basic item that is accessible by most.

In Tanzania, the model, though piloted by Microsoft also, it entirely different. It has been set up in areas where there is poor internet infrastructure but people are able to pay if given access. Hence there it’s a service that users subscribe for and pay monthly according to Louis Otieno – Director, Microsoft 4Afrika at Microsoft.

Louis adds that in the US, 15% of the people in the US have access to the internet, but cannot afford to pay for it, for that case White spaces are used to give access to these people. In South Africa, Google has already started trials in White Spaces to serve ten schools in Cape Town. This will enable the institutions access high speed broadband for lower costs. In South Africa, internet costs are higher up compared to what is available for other markets like Kenya, so for this situation White Spaces come to fill the cost and access gap.

Microsoft moved from selling physical copies of their software and have since put more efforts on selling digital downloads that they have more control of. Microsoft Office 2013 is one that is cheaper when purchased on-line with an even cheaper Office 365 which is sold by yearly subscription as opposed to the physical copies model. This allows Microsoft to control the number of installations per copy hence gaining more revenues off subscriptions that also include access to their cloud. Microsoft does need more internet penetration for their subscription products to make sense to most of the emerging markets.

If White Spaces could become mainstream we would see some propositions like SMEs in areas away from metropolitan towns look at cloud solutions and online data backup as something viable. With internet access, even companies can consider investing in more mobile devices since they can work more remotely with smartphones and tablets with as good efficiency as they would in the office at their desks.


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