Microsoft Corporation., in collaboration with the government of Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Communications and Indigo Telecom Ltd., on  5th of February announced the launch of a pilot project delivering low-cost wireless broadband access to previously unserved locations near Nanyuki and Kalema, Kenya. The network utilizes TV white spaces and solar-powered base stations to deliver broadband access and create new opportunities for commerce, education, healthcare and delivery of government services.

This pilot is part of Microsoft’s broader 4Afrika Initiative, to help improve the continent’s global competitiveness. By 2016, the 4Afrika Initiative plans to help place tens of millions of smart devices in the hands of African youth, bring 1 million African small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) online, upskill 100,000 members of Africa’s existing workforce, and help an additional 100,000 recent graduates develop employability skills, 75 percent of whom Microsoft will help place in jobs.

TV white spaces, the unused portions of wireless spectrum in the frequency bands generally used for television, are particularly well-suited for delivering low-cost broadband access to rural and other unserved communities. Radio signals in the TV bands travel over longer distances and penetrate more obstacles than other types of radio signals and, therefore, require fewer base stations to provide ubiquitous coverage. Microsoft intends to use this pilot and other similar initiatives to encourage African governments to make the needed legal and regulatory changes that would allow this type of technology to be deployed continentwide.

The initial installation near Nanyuki includes five customer locations: the Burguret Dispensary (healthcare clinic), Male Primary School, Male Secondary School, Gakawa Secondary School and Laikipia District Community Library. The installation in Kalema will begin with a base station that connects to a government of Kenya agricultural extension office. Fourteen more locations on the network will be added in the coming months. The network will also feature white space radios manufactured by Adaptrum.

“Indigo is committed to finding and deploying the best solutions for our customers’ needs, which in this case means bringing broadband access to previously unserved communities,” said Peter Henderson, chairman of Indigo Telecom, the local Internet service provider partnering in the project. “Beyond simply providing access, we have given the community a real stake in the pilot’s success by creating a cooperative to manage the project, an effort that included hiring and training a local community member to serve as the lab technician.”