Following the lead of co-founder Bill Gates Microsoft is taking more interest in Africa, announcing its 4Afrika Initiative with a stated aim of improving the continent's global competitiveness. There are several plans under way as a part of the project, with one of the first being a new Windows Phone 8 device from Microsoft and Huawei. Pictured above, the Huawei 4Afrika phone is a specially tailored version of the existing Ascend W1 meant as an affordable option (no price announced yet) for first time smartphone buyers that also comes preloaded with apps created by African developers for African consumers, and a subsection of the existing Windows Phone Store that will continue to focus on "locally-relevant" apps and content. It will be available in blue, red, black and white when it launches later this month in Angola, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa.
Another part of the push is a pilot project Microsoft is working on with the Kenyan government and Indigo Telecom which combines solar powered base stations using TV white space technology to offer affordable wireless internet access. Meant to bring broadband to places that currently lack even electricity, the deployment is called Mawingu, connecting a healthcare clinic and several schools in its initial test. After several years of pushing the tech, which takes advantage of unused TV broadcast spectrum, Microsoft hopes to convince other nations to make the legal/regulatory changes to start using it as well. There's a press release after the break with more details, as well as a video and more information available beyond the source links.
Microsoft Introduces the 4Afrika Initiative to Help Improve the Continent's Global Competitiveness
Feb. 04, 2013
Efforts focus on accelerating adoption of smart devices, empowering small and medium-sized businesses, and raising skills development to ignite African innovation for the continent and for the world.
REDMOND, Wash. - Feb. 4, 2013 - Microsoft Corp. today introduced the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative, a new effort through which the company will actively engage in Africa's economic development to improve its 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.
"The world has recognized the promise of Africa, and Microsoft wants to invest in that promise. We want to empower African youth, entrepreneurs, developers, and business and civic leaders to turn great ideas into a reality that can help their community, their country, the continent and beyond," said Fernando de Sousa, general manager, 4Afrika Initiative. "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."
As a first critical step toward increasing the adoption of smart devices, Microsoft and Huawei are introducing the Huawei 4Afrika, a full-functionality Windows Phone 8, which will come preloaded with select applications designed for Africa. The phone will initially be available in Angola, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa later this month. The Huawei 4Afrika phone, which is the first in a series of smart devices designed "4Afrika," will be targeted toward university students, developers and first-time smartphone users to ensure they have affordable access to best-in-class technology to enable them to connect, collaborate, and access markets and opportunities online. (See related release and blog.)
To improve technology access, Microsoft also announced the deployment of a pilot project with the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications and Kenyan Internet service provider Indigo Telecom Ltd. to deliver low-cost, high-speed, wireless broadband and create new opportunities for commerce, education, healthcare and delivery of government services across Kenya. The deployment is called "Mawingu," which is Kiswahili for cloud. It is the first deployment of solar-powered base stations working together with TV white spaces, a technology partially developed by Microsoft Research, to deliver high-speed Internet access to areas currently lacking even basic electricity. Microsoft hopes to implement similar pilots in East and Southern Africa in the coming months to further explore the commercial feasibility of TV white space technology. These pilots will be used to encourage other African countries to accelerate legislation that would enable this TV white space technology to deliver on the promise of universal access for Africa. (See related release and blog.)
To help empower African SMEs, Microsoft announced a new SME Online Hub through which African SMEs will have access to free, relevant products and services from Microsoft and other partners. The hub will aggregate the available services, which can help SMEs expand their businesses locally, find new business opportunities outside their immediate geographies and help increase their overall competitiveness. As a welcome offer, Microsoft will provide free domain registration for one year and free tools for SMEs interested in creating a professional Web presence. The hub is expected to initially open in April in South Africa and Morocco and will expand to other African markets over time.
To accelerate capacity building and skills development, Microsoft has established the Afrika Academy, an education platform leveraging online and offline learning tools, to help Africans develop both technical and business skills for entrepreneurship and improved employability. Training through the Afrika Academy will be available starting in March at no cost to recent higher education graduates, government leaders and the Microsoft partner community. One of the first offline training sessions will take place with Microsoft-managed partners in Ivory Coast in the coming months, focusing on capacity building in business and technical skills for Microsoft's partners in Francophone West Africa.
The 4Afrika Initiative will be tightly connected to Microsoft's network of more than 10,000 existing partners in Africa today, a network it has built through more than 20 years of investing and operating in the continent. The 4Afrika Initiative will leverage these existing partnerships and create new ones across the public and private sectors to help advance common goals and to create value for Africans. Together with its partners, Microsoft has initiated various other efforts in recent months as part of the 4Afrika Initiative:
AppFactory (South Africa and Egypt). Microsoft is hiring 30 paid student interns to staff the AppFactory - centers to which the public can submit requests for Africa-relevant Windows applications (Windows 8 or Windows Phone). These requests are being crowdsourced for voting, and the most popular ideas are assigned development resources to build and launch the apps in the Windows Store. Already, the AppFactory teams have built 73 Windows apps and 39 Windows Phone apps, and at full capacity, the teams plan to contribute approximately 90 new apps to the Windows Store per month.
Nokia and Windows Phone user training (Kenya and Nigeria). Microsoft has established agreements with Safaricom in Kenya and Bharti Airtel in Nigeria to accelerate local adoption of the Nokia Lumia 510 and Nokia Lumia 620 Windows Phones. In Nigeria, 95 percent of phones sold are feature phones. Through these agreements, Microsoft is funding in-store training for consumers who purchase these Nokia models with a data plan. The training explains the benefits of owning a smartphone, helping make these smartphones better understood and, therefore, more desirable for consumers.
Female empowerment portal (North Africa). This portal targeted at North African women will launch in March as an offshoot of the MasrWorks IT skills portal. It is designed to empower young women to play a leadership role in their communities, build their skills and self-esteem, and introduce new models for self-employment. It will provide IT skills training and softer-skills training on topics including leadership, self-confidence and interviewing, as well as the mentorship needed to build a long-term career in technology. The mentorship will be provided via a sustained engagement between Microsoft, its partners, a local NGO and the beneficiaries to support them in career building and to plan their role in society as female leaders.
"We believe there has never been a better time to invest in Africa and that access to technology - particularly cloud services and smart devices - can and will serve as a great accelerator for African competitiveness," said Jean-Philippe Courtois, president of Microsoft International. "The launches of Windows 8 and many other new products in the coming months represent a new era for Microsoft, which we believe will redefine the technology industry globally. These additional investments under the 4Afrika banner will help define our company's new era in Africa."
Simultaneous launch events to kick off this new era in Africa are taking place today in five locations spanning the continent: Cairo; Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Lagos, Nigeria; Nairobi, Kenya; and Johannesburg. In all locations except for Cairo, Microsoft will also be hosting separate developer workshops in the coming weeks to facilitate and accelerate the development of new and innovative Windows applications for Africa, by Africans.
More information can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/4Afrika.
Microsoft Teams With the Government of Kenya and Indigo Telecom to Deliver Low-Cost, Solar-Powered Broadband Access Using Cutting-Edge TV White Space Technology
Pilot is part of the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative to help improve continent's global competitiveness.
NAIROBI, Kenya - Feb. 5, 2013 - Microsoft Corp., in collaboration with the government of Kenya's Ministry of Information and Communications and Indigo Telecom Ltd., today 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 (see related release), to help improve the continent's global competitiveness. A core goal of the 4Afrika Initiative is to facilitate access to technology for the masses and to empower African students, entrepreneurs, developers and others to become active global citizens.
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.
'Mawingu' is the first deployment of solar-powered base stations working together with TV white spaces, a technology partially developed by Microsoft Research, to deliver high-speed Internet access to areas currently lacking even basic electricity.
"Microsoft was built on the idea that technology should be accessible and affordable to the masses, and to date, this promise has remained unfulfilled in Africa," said Louis Otieno, Legal and Corporate Affairs director for Africa initiatives at Microsoft. "This technology has the potential to deliver on the promise of universal and affordable high-speed wireless broadband for Africa, and we are proud and humbled to be part of this important effort."
The project is the first deployment of TV white space technology in Africa targeted at communities without access to broadband or electricity and is a result of a memorandum of understanding that presents a framework of cooperation between Microsoft, the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications and industry partner Indigo Telecom. To date, work in this space in Africa has exclusively focused on demonstrating the technical feasibility of using TV white space technology. This project takes an important next step forward by instead focusing on assessing the commercial feasibility of delivering low-cost access using TV white space technology.
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.
Utilizing the latest Window 8 tablets, Windows 8 applications and Microsoft Office 365, Indigo will provide computer labs and instruction to each school and the library and work with community leaders and local companies to identify the most beneficial services and applications for each location, including in the agriculture and education spaces.
"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."
"TV white spaces and efficient spectrum management represent a creative, tested and affordable way of extending broadband access to unserved communities," said Paul Garnett, director in Microsoft's Technology Policy Group. "Kenya is one of the countries leading the way in using this innovative solution, and we hope regulators around the world take note and develop legal frameworks that support broader commercial deployment of TV white space technology in their own jurisdictions."
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