The Wi-Fi networks we use at home or in cafés have a limited signal reach of about 100 square feet.

To manage the problem of Internet connection, IT companies and Microsoft Corp. are utilizing TV white space. The technology is a spectrum of broadcast frequencies, typically used to transmit TV channels from one location to another, harnessed for wireless networks.

Through the 4Afrika initiative, Microsoft collaborates with local universities and IT companies including those in Namibia, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and Tanzania, to bring the internet to unconnected parts of Africa. Microsoft launched the initiative in February 2013, with the latest project this year in Botswana.

TV white space makes broadband internet access in Africa affordable for most users in isolated parts of Namibia that could not otherwise access using typical café Wi-Fi. The distance of the frequency waves from the TV towers is much farther than a basic modem signal radius.

Namibia is an example of a large-scale white space project that covers a 38.5 by 94-mile area. The regions of Oshana, Ohangwena, Omusati and 28 schools in Northern Namibia are now connected to a broadband network.

One of the purposes of connecting secluded areas is to ensure that schools can communicate with other schools, businesses and nations.

Namibia is not an exceptional country grappling with access to the internet. Many African schools and hospitals outside of urban areas require the internet to provide learners and patients with the best education and health care.

In Ghana, tablets and other electronics are used to connect students to a broader academic and business community. Orlando Ayala is chairman of emerging markets at Microsoft.

He says that “We have to be an active participant in ensuring that by empowering this young human resource, that translates into innovation and creation of jobs. Hopefully, Tech Start-ups come from not only Africa but beyond Africa.”

Broadband Internet connection in Limpopo, South Africa also links secondary schools to a larger education community. Mountain View secondary school teacher Simon Matlebjame says that “We will be able to interact with other countries. Learners will be marketable and employable.”

The Internet gap between some parts of Africa and other communities is often referred to as the “digital divide,” or Africa’s economic and technological relationship to the rest of the world.

Another one of 4Afrika initiative incentives is to enhance Africa’s global economic value.

Microsoft looks at Africa as an investment in the future of technology. The company’s message is that the “Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative is built on the dual beliefs that technology can accelerate growth for Africa, and Africa can also accelerate technology for the world.”

By focusing on world-class skills, innovation and access, the company aims to provide the tools for success in the global market. Beyond economic opportunity, the initiative brings quality health care to African countries.

Project Kgolagano connects hospitals and clinics to allow easy transmission of medical records and patient access to specialized medicine through telemedicine. In partnership with the University of Pennsylvania, Botswana government and other IT companies, Microsoft helps join specialized health care and hospitals.

Director of the Botswana Innovation Hub Marketing, ICT and Registration, Dr. Geoffrey Seleka says that “there is currently a lack of specialized care in remote hospitals and clinics in Botswana.” The specialized care using photo and video transmissions between hospitals will make quality health care realistic.

A 2012 U.N. Human Rights Council resolution declared that Internet access is a basic human right.

Hospitals all over Botswana and Africa are, or are in the process of being, connected. By the efforts of local educators, IT companies and the 4Afrika Initiative, hospitals will have easier access to crucial medical records and students will have easier time learning.

The overarching goal is that people in Africa will share medical, educational and technological innovations with the rest of the world.

Michael Hopek

Sources: Penn Medicine, Microsoft, UW Electrical Engineering, 4Afrika Microsoft 1, 4Afrika Microsoft 2, 4Afrika Microsoft 3, 4Afrika Microsoft 4
Photo: The Guardian

UNDP and Microsoft
The United Nations Development Programme in partnership with Microsoft East Africa Limited, has a launched an initiative to support the continued development of entrepreneurship activities in Ethiopia.

The initiative, which is a part of Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative, will bring mentoring and support to around 200,000 young entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs will also have access to Microsoft’s BizSpark program, which provides free software to start-up entrepreneurs, helping them to launch their products and gain global recognition.

To date, there are 625 start-ups supported through this program. In addition, specific assistance geared toward micro and small business entrepreneurs will be included through a ‘Build Your Own Business’ training program.

Ethiopia has a population of 96 million, the second largest of all African countries. With over 40 percent of those 96 million between the ages of 0-14 and 20 percent between 15-24, creating an entrepreneur program geared toward younger people interested in business can have a powerful long-term effect.

As UNDP is Ethiopia’s first private sector partnership, there are high expectations on all ends. However, UNDP and Microsoft have successfully worked together and built programs in the past which now promote sustainable development, work to eradicate poverty, advance women’s rights agendas and encourage good governance.

This newest program is focused on empowering citizens and preparing them to join both their local and the global workforce. Based on the belief that technology can and will have a big role to play in Africa, the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative provides one step forward in empowering local people through practical skills.

Microsoft has been active in Africa since 1992 and currently has 22 offices in 14 countries. It has also been named one of the top employers in Africa in both 2012 and 2013 by Certified Top Employers.

Empowerment through skill training is a good way to provide Africans a way to enter the global marketplace, contribute their ideas and raise their level of income and that of those living around them. Eradicating poverty is a battle that can be fought on many different fronts and the new partnership in Ethiopia is one step toward making eradication in that country a reality.

 – Andrea Blinkhorn

Sources: Biztech Africa, BERNAMA, Microsoft 1, Microsoft 2, Microsoft 3, The Borgen Project, CIA
Photo: Africatime

Microsoft Aids in African Economic Development

This month, Microsoft introduced a new program in Africa in hopes of becoming a stronger component in African economic development. According to the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative website, “the goal [of the initiative] is to empower every African who has a great idea for a business or an application and to turn that idea into a reality which in turn can help their community, their country, or even the continent at large.”

Economically, Microsoft is looking to capitalize on the promise Africa holds and improve Africa’s global competitiveness. The Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative has four plans that it is working to accomplish by 2016:

1. Provide African youth with tens of millions of smart devices

2. Bring 1 million African SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) online

3. Help provide additional skills to 100,000 members of Africa’s current workforce

4. Help 100,000 recent graduates develop employability skills and then help 75 percent of these graduates find job placements.

Fernando de Sousa, the General Manager of Microsoft’s 4Africa Initiative, commented that Microsoft’s ultimate goal is to empower a generation. This gives insight into the motive behind Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative and shows how accomplishing its plans will contribute to Africa becoming more globally competitive.

In their effort to accomplish these plans, Microsoft has created a new smart device called the Huawei 4Afrika that will come fully loaded with specific applications designed just for Africa. The phone will be available in select areas at first and will be given to students attending universities, developers, and people who have never owned a smart device in order to guarantee them access to devices that are affordable and have the most advanced technology. This will give them opportunities to collaborate, connect, and have access to online venues and markets.

Efforts have also been made on the educational and small business side. Microsoft has invested in an educational platform that leverages both online and offline learning devices called Afrika Academy. They have also invested  in a pilot project with the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications and a Kenyan Internet service provider to improve technological access in Africa and provide low-cost, high-speed broadband. An SME Online Hub has also been created that will aggregate available services to help SMEs expand their business within their community, as well as further out.

Further, de Sousa believes that “the 4Afrika Initiative is built on the dual beliefs that technology can accelerate growth for Africa, and Africa can also accelerate technology for the world.” This works to the advantage of the entire world as technological advancement plays a key role in many aspects of life globally, including health care and living standards; making Africa more accessible makes business deals easier to conduct.

– Angela Hooks

Sources:Fight Poverty, Microsoft 4Afrika, Business Fights Poverty
Photo: Microsoft 4Afrika