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Microsoft has launched a Kenyan pilot network of solar-powered towers that tap into unlicensed “white space” frequencies, says ReadWrite, to provide wireless connectivity to rural communities in the east African nation. Microsoft said it will contribute “tens of millions of smart devices” in consumers and small businesses by 2016, using a phone it co-designed with Huawei.

The project uses a combination of TV band white space base stations and end user devices, along with 5 GHz fixed microwave for backhaul and a high capacity fiber network. TV band base stations serve as backhaul for hotspots using traditional 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi connectivity.

The Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative is designed to empower African youth, entrepreneurs, developers, and business and civic leaders that can help their community, their country, the continent, and beyond.

By 2016, the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative intends to:

  • help place tens of millions of smart devices in the hands of African youth,
  • bring 1 million African small and medium enterprises (SMEs) online, and
  • help 200 000 Africans develop skills for entrepreneurship and employability.

Kenyan Internet service provider Indigo Telecom is the first deployment of solar-powered base stations using TV white spaces, a technology partially developed by Microsoft Research. It can deliver high-speed Internet access to areas currently lacking even basic electricity.

In addition, solar will be installed at local schools to power Information & Communication Technology labs. Each school will receive seven square meter solar panels that will produce approximately 4.5 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy per day, which is expected to provide a slight surplus of power above what is required for the ICT lab.

The power delivered to the ICT labs will enable students to use tablets and eReaders that previously wouldn’t have been practical without access to power or broadband.

The Huawei 4Afrika phone, a customized version of Huawei’s Ascend W1 handset, is the first in a series of smart devices designed ‘4Afrika’, that will be targeted toward university students, developers and first-time smart phone users. The phone will initially be available in Angola, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa by the end of February 2013.

Kenya’s Daily Nation reported that Microsoft will spend the equivalent of $75 million as part of the 4Afrika Initative. Data from the GSM association shows that Africa is the fastest growing smartphone market in the world having reported 43 per cent annual growth since 2000.

Adaptrum’s TV band White Space device, Model ACRS 1.0, was approved by FCC on April 19, 2012. It was authorized to operate in the entire UHF TV band with an output EIRP close to 36 dBm, the FCC’s power limit. Adaptrum was the first company to demonstrate at FCC a prototype TVBD that actually complies with the rules adopted in September 2010.

For over 3.9 billion people, around 61% of the world’s population, the price of fixed broadband is unaffordable. By continent, this ranges from 8% of the population of Europe, to 90% of the population of Africa. Likewise, basic mobile broadband is unaffordable for over 2.6 billion of the world’s population as shown above.

TV white spaces are locally unused frequency ranges of spectrum that exist within the frequencies that are used for terrestrial television transmission.

The spectrum in these bands has the potential to become the world’s first globally harmonised spectrum below 1GHz. They have already been authorised for licence-exempt use in the US and a number of other countries are at various stages of the process of enabling their use.

Richard Thanki, a consultant at Perspective Associates, and to Microsoft, suggests that white spaces could generate between $3.9 billion and $7.3 billion in value annually over 15 years by augmenting current wireless networks.

Thanki (pdf) believes white spaces spectrum offers a broader range than a typical Wi-Fi connection. A single Wi-Fi access point enhanced by the white spaces could “fully cover a large building and the neighboring grounds and areas,” he writes.

The initial applications of TV whitespace products in the U.S. include rural broadband solution for wireless ISPs, campus and community wide-area networks, cellular data offloading, and machine-to-machine networks.

The Solar Powered Internet School — a product of Samsung’s corporate-social responsibility initiative — has solar panels on the roof that can generate nine hours of electricity a day, says C/Net.

It powers the electronics inside — a 50-inch electronic board, Samsung Internet-enabled solar-powered notebooks, Samsung Galaxy tablets, and Wi-Fi cameras. Up to 21 students can use the classroom at one time, and the entire curriculum is stored in a central computer server. Samsung aims to reach 2.5 million learners on the African continent by 2015.

Other solar related shipping container conversions include; Space (Solar Powered Adaptive Container for Everyone), ZubaBox (a mobile solar powered internet connectivity solution), Beautiful Earth (built using two re-purposed steel shipping containers), and Renewable Energy Powered Portable Data Centers (which enables solar or wind-powered POD’s to be installed at sites with optimum exposure to sunlight or high winds).

Related Dailywireless articles include; The Solar Powered Internet School, Solar Powered WiFi links Islands, Enabling Solar Powered Projects in Haiti, Satellite Backhaul for LTE , Dish Turns On Satellite Broadband, War 2.0 for Unlicensed Spectrum, Congressional Battle over Unlicensed Spectrum, FCC: TV Auction in 2014, Spectrum War: Unlicensed, Shared and Auctioned, White Space Radio using 802.11af Demoed, FCC: TV Auction in 2014 , FCC Dishes Dirt, Talks Up 3.5 GHz, Spectrum Bridge Partners with Carlson Wireless, Incentive Auctions: Going Nuclear, AT&T Fears FCC’s Incentive Auction Plans, FCC Moves on TV Frequency Auction, Google and Microsoft Want UK White Space?, Microsoft Announced Narrow Channel Whitespace, Microsoft Announced Narrow Channel Whitespace, FCC Authorizes White Space Service in Wilmington, Genachowski Lobbies for Unlicensed White Spaces, Universal Service Reform Passed, Microsoft Announced Narrow Channel Whitespace,

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