Entering The White-Space Internet Frontier

A Microsoft-funded project is bringing wi-fi to remote areas of Kenya using solar power and the bandwidth being freed up as TV goes from analog to digital. The country could find itself "in the global vanguard of white-space roll-out."

What's the Latest Development?

For the first time, students and others living in parts of Kenya's Rift Valley will have access to wireless Internet, thanks to a Microsoft-funded initiative that uses solar-powered base stations to provide a signal from the "white spaces" spectrum -- a set of frequencies between 400 and 800 megahertz that used to be occupied by analog TV signals. These frequencies "penetrate walls, bend around hills and travel much longer distances" than conventional wi-fi, and users only need a regular TV antenna attached to a wireless-capable device to get online.

What's the Big Idea?

Companies and governments around the world are looking at ways to accommodate both current and projected increases in data traffic. The Kenya project, and others planned for different African countries, could help pioneer the use of white-space technology, says Peter Henderson, who works for Kenya-based telecom company Indigo. In addition, white-space trials are happening in countries whose governments are open to adopting the technology without a lengthy consultation process. While the UK is expected to allow white-space access by the end of this year, the US is still trying to develop a database technology standard that lets devices locate available frequencies.

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