Connecting rural parts of Africa to the Internet is changing lives dramatically – helping healthcare providers with location analysis, weather information for farmers and teaching children in ways previously unimaginable. Countries like Kenya have been seeing the benefit of frontline technological advances for several years, and the developments keep coming. Recently the BBC reported that Huawei and Microsoft have teamed up to offer a bespoke Windows phone, running exclusive African-created Apps, in an initiative called 4Afrika. This programme should ultimately see millions of people with smartphones in the next few years.
Another aspect to 4Afrika, and potentially more beneficial, are the new advances enabling the unused ‘white spaces’ of the wireless spectrum used for television broadcasting to be set aside for remote Internet connectivity. This will be solar-powered and a much more consistent and powerful connection for online use. The benefits are many: “Local schools, a healthcare clinic, a government agriculture office and a library have been connected in the first part of the pilot,” reported the BBC, and of course businesses will now potentially flourish in new, exciting ways – the ideas have always been in place, and now hopefully the resources will be too. Microsoft’s Fernando de Sousa detailed the contributions of the programme, and outlined the advantages of avoiding inefficient government and private subsidies for such a venture, hoping instead for the commercial potential to keep this moving forward, “The commercial viability of actually deploying white spaces on a broad spectrum across the communities, is something that is very important… because a. it can’t be a subsidised service; and b. it is not a private government or community network.” Google is also planning to get in on this exciting philanthropic activity, spearheading a South African campaign to connect ten schools in the Western Cape soon. Exciting changes are on the horizon.