Bringing Internet to rural Africa using TV

Read an article the other day from BBC, named TV white space connecting rural Africa about how radio spectrum designed for TV is being used to bring Internet access to rural Africa.

The group promoting TV for Internet connectivity is the 4Afrika Initiative from Microsoft.  Their stated intent is to engage in the economic development of Africa to improve its global competitiveness.

Why TV?

Apparently, the TV spectrum has a number of attributes that make it very useful to provide Internet connectivity.  In the article they talked about 400mhz as being very resilient that propagates well around natural obstructions, through walls and goes long distances.

Although these days, Africa has plenty of undersea cables connecting it to the rest of the world, getting fiber connectivity to rural Africa has been too costly to date.  So if the last mile (or in the case of rural Africa, 100km) problem can be solved then Internet access can be available to all communities.

But the main problem is that this spectrum is usually licensed to TV stations. On the other hand, Africa probably has plenty of TV spectrum not currently being used for active broadcasting, especially across rural Africa.  As such, using this “white space” in TV signals to provide Internet access is a great alternative use of the spectrum.

With a solar powered base station libraries, schools, healthcare centers, government offices, etc., in rural Africa can now be connected to the Internet.  Presently many of these rural Africa locations have no electricity and no telephone lines whatsoever.

Providing internet access to such locations will enable e-learning, more informed access to agricultural markets as well as a plethora of advanced communications technologies currently absent from their villages.

Why Microsoft?

Microsoft has been actively engaged in Africa for over 20 years now.  And more  storage vendors have started listing Africa as a blossoming market for their gear, where they are all engaged in upgrading IT and telecommunications infrastructure. Microsoft has an interesting graphic on their involvement in Africa over the past two decades (see 4Africa Infographic).

We have discussed the emergence of mobile and cloud as a leap-frog technologies propelling Africa and especially Kenya into the information economy, (please see Mobile health (mHealth) takes off in Kenya and Is cloud a leabfrog technology posts). But Internet access is even broader than the just mobile or cloud and is certainly complementary (and for cloud, a necessary infrastructure) for both these technologies.

Africa, welcome to the Information Economy…


Photo Credits: DIY antenna (bottlenet) by robin.elaine