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Today Microsoft is announcing a public-private collaboration that will deliver low-cost, off-the-grid wireless broadband access to previously unserved locations in rural Kenya—and will do it with the help of solar power.
To deliver broadband to rural locations, the project taps into unused portions of wireless spectrum in the television frequency band—it turns out these so-called “white spaces” are a perfect fit for broadband. Microsoft is delivering broadband access—which will serve a healthcare clinic, schools, a library, and government offices—in collaboration with the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications, Kenyan internet service provider Indigo and U.S.-based wireless startup Adaptrum. The project will provide wireless broadband to more than 6,000 people who currently don’t have online access. It’s all part of a broad effort called the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative unveiled today, which you can read more about here.
But if providing a novel way to deliver broadband isn’t good enough, with Microsoft’s financial support, the project will rely on solar energy to power base stations and towers that will provide broadband coverage to this area. In addition, solar will be installed at local schools to power Information & Communication Technology (ICT) labs. Each school will receive seven square meter solar panels that will produce approximately 4.5 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy per day, which is expected to provide a slight surplus of power above what is required for the ICT lab. The power delivered to the ICT labs will enable students to use tablets and eReaders that previously wouldn’t have been practical without access to power or broadband.
Microsoft is supporting solar energy to help improve the wireless spectrum, but it’s also a practical solution in a rural setting like Kenya’s Rift Valley. Solar power addresses the issue of reliability in developing economies and carries low operating costs since panels last a long time and batteries can function for up to three years. That makes solar an increasingly affordable way to deliver power, especially in areas that lack infrastructure for both electricity transmission and broadband access.
Microsoft is increasingly looking at new and innovative ways to use renewable energy such as solar, wind and biogas to power IT infrastructure, like with the biogas-powered data center we have planned for Cheyenne, Wyoming. At Microsoft we’ve embraced opportunities such as this one in Kenya to help provide access to technology to developing parts of the world and doing it with clean energy. That’s a positive step for economic development worldwide and for the planet.
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