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Ghana has become the first country in Africa to have a commercial TV white space offering. The offering, which is a joint venture between Spectra Wireless and Microsoft 4Afrika, is meant to allow students in the country to buy affordable, high-speed internet bundles and devices.
There have been a number of trials using TV white spaces — or unused gaps in broadcasting frequencies — to provide affordable, high-speed internet connectivity across the continent. To date however, the vast majority have been short-term projects aimed at testing the technology’s viability.
As part of Spectra Wireless’ commercial pilot service, which itself grew out of a Microsoft pilot launched in May 2014, university students will be able to:
- Purchase high-speed internet bundles
- Use relevant apps, including Microsoft Office 365 and The Microsoft Virtual Academy
- Apply for zero-interest loans in partnership with UT Bank to purchase select, internet-enabled Microsoft, Lenovo, Dell and HP devices
“We are breaking away from the standard way of selling Internet services in Africa,” says Sam Darko, Country Leader of Spectra Wireless. “Everyone wants and needs access to the Internet, but there are very few, if any, reliable, unlimited and affordable solutions for the masses. Our complete djungleEd service for the tertiary education sector provides just that, and together with the application bundles and affordable devices we offer a complete technology upgrade to participating institutions. This service will transform education in Africa.”
The cheapest data package starts at two Ghana cedi (US$0.61) per day and provides 24 hours of access.
“Even in advance of launching the commercial service, we have over 5,800 unique client devices registered on our network, out of a student population in Koforidua of 8 500, so the interest level already has been high. We look forward to educating more students and offering them affordable devices,” Darko adds.
“Research by the Wi-Fi Alliance in the United States has revealed that 90% of students view access to Wi-Fi as critical to their success,” says Fernando de Sousa, General Manager Africa Initiatives at Microsoft. “High speed broadband offers students and teachers a way to access learning resources from all over the world, equalising the divide between developed and developing nations. While the initial pilot project in Ghana offered wireless broadband to universities, this new commercial service allows students to have their own internet bundles, determine their own usage and purchase an internet-enabled device for anytime, anywhere access and enhanced productivity.”
It will be interesting to see whether Ghana rolling out a commercial white space offering will prompt other African countries to clear the way for similar ventures. If it does, then it would seem that Microsoft could be an early leader in the field, having run trials in South Africa’s Limpopo province, Tanzania, and of course Ghana.
It is not however alone in pursuing the technology, with Google also holding pilot projects across the continent.
Image: Michael Shaheen via Flickr.