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Microsoft sails into Africa with White Spaces and Huawei phones

4Afrika rural network project

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Microsoft is going large into Africa, pushing White Space networks out to the most rural of locations and getting Huawei to launch an Africa-only handset pushing Windows Phone into the continent.

The handset is a rebranded Ascend W1 which was demonstrated last month at CES, with a "4Afrika" logo stuck on the front and a customised application store to go along with Skydrive and Microsoft Office. Connectivity is the usual mix of 2G/3G/Wi-Fi, which will limit it to the major conurbations, but Microsoft's African aspirations go a good deal further as its stated aims show.

Redmond is setting up an Afrika Academy which will train up 100,000 African staffers and enable another 100,000 who are currently employed to gain new skills to boost their countries' economies. The newly trained brains are intended to push a million African SMEs online by 2016, who'll benefit from the Microsoft SME Hub and free domain names too, but biggest of all is Microsoft's promise of proper connectivity.

White Space radios, which use locally empty TV frequencies listed on an online database, have huge potential all over the world. They're already starting to be deployed in United States and should arrive in the UK soon, but that's nothing compared to the impact they can have in a developing country, as Microsoft demonstrates with a trial rollout as part of the 4Afrika project.

Mawingu White Space

You can have a look at the project here.

Microsoft was an early champion of White Space, covering its Redmond campus and pushing for detect-and-avoid devices which would be even cheaper to deploy. Those ultimately failed to work, necessitating the database approach, but Microsoft has become a database host and has been actively involved in the UK's White Space development community centred around Cambridge.

TV frequencies have very good propagation, which is why TV (an early claimant for airwaves) uses them, but with a White Space database they can be reused enabling connectivity to reach further than ever.

Not that Microsoft is doing this for fun, "many see China or the BRIC countries as the next big opportunity for growth," says the company's VP for the Middle East and Africa. "At Microsoft, we view the African continent as a game-changer in the global economy," he adds - and Microsoft isn't alone.

While the USA spurns Huawei on security fears, and India refuses the company "domestic manufacturer" status on the same grounds, Africa has been embracing the Chinese infrastructure provider with enthusiasm, and Google's African aspirations are clearly important enough for it to bribe France Telecom for connectivity into the region, so Africa is going to be important to all the tech companies - including Microsoft.

Not to mention the region gives Microsoft access to millions of consumers whose first reaction to Windows 8 isn't to search for the missing Start Button. ®

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