Microsoft Airband recently announced its new and expanded partnerships aimed at providing high-speed internet access to nearly 40 million people across Latin America and Africa. The partnerships would birth projects targeted at several African countries which include Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda.
Africa remains the region with the lowest digital adoption rate in the world. This low adoption is mainly as a result of poor broadband penetration and poor power supply. Only 40% of Africans have access to internet as of December 2022. This limited access to broadband means that 60% of Africans have fewer opportunities to develop the digital fluency and skills needed to participate in the digital economy.
Microsoft’s Airband Initiative aims to close the digital divide and bring high-speed internet connectivity to unconnected communities around Africa. Officially launched in 2017, the initiative started with a goal of bringing broadband connectivity to 2 million Americans by July 2022. After early success, that goal grew to 3 million Americans and an additional 40 million more across the globe — by the same deadline.
Today, the initiative has a target of delivering high-speed internet access to 250 million people living in unserved and underserved areas around the world, including 100 million in Africa by 2025. And its latest partnerships would help accelerate and ensure significant progress in this commitment.
“At Microsoft, we believe that internet access and meaningful connectivity is a fundamental right. The Microsoft Airband initiative was launched to bring transformative connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world. Through the Airband initiative and its partners, Microsoft is serving as a catalyst to enable affordable access to connectivity, specifically focusing on regions with lower digital connectivity rates.”Vickie Robinson, GM, Microsoft Airband Initiative
Africa continues to rise as a global powerhouse for economic activities. Described as the new frontier, it is no wonder that many a multinational are proceeding to establish outposts and homes on the continent. Africa is also an emerging global tech hub, a phenomenon that has proven most-valuable to youths of the continent.
African countries continue to grapple with high unemployment rates, with a country like Nigeria projected to hit 41% unemployment by the end of 2023. However, youths across the continent are finding their way around this by developing tech skills that enable them compete favourably in the global employment market.
Unfortunately, these opportunities have been largely restricted to the cities and towns with manageable internet and power supply. With majority of the population scattered across rural areas of Africa with limited access to these facilities, any project focused on providing them becomes of huge importance.
Microsoft Airband in East Africa
Microsoft claims that its efforts on the African continent are some of its most longstanding and farthest reaching. Noting that many African nations are rising economic powers, delivering quality connectivity is a huge challenge especially as the continent still comprises mainly vast rural areas. To deliver on its promise therefore, Microsoft Airband says it is building upon its existing partnerships with service providers like Mawingu in East Africa and Tizeti in West Africa.
“Microsoft Airband’s relationship with Kenyan service provider Mawingu began in 2014 with a pilot in Nanyuki and has since expanded to deliver high-speed internet access to four million Kenyans living in rural areas. Mawingu was Airband’s first partner, and thanks to the public-partnership model, today the company is Kenya’s leading internet service provider dedicated to rural and peri-urban markets.”Vickie Robinson, GM, Microsoft Airband Initiative
This latest expansion of its partnership with Mawingu is expectrd to bring coverage to 16 million more people across the East African countries of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda by the end of 2025. This will bring the total number of beneficiaries in that region to 20 million people.
Microsoft’s partner, Mawingu targets public locations throughout Kenya, such as hotspots, vocational schools and businesses. This partnership has resulted in the deployment of more than 700 hotspots and connectivity for more than 100 primary schools. As a result, communities are now able to access digital skills training and essential education materials over the internet.
In west Africa, Microsoft Airband has already partnered with Nigerian broadband provider, Tizeti to bring internet coverage to more than 900,000 people in Nigeria. Beginning in the nation’s economic capital, Lagos, the partnership has since expanded its service to underserved states across the country.
Following its huge success in Nigeria, Microsoft has decided to extend its partnership with Tizeti to Cote d’Ivoire. Describing the West African country as the “cultural crossroads of West Africa,” the partnership plans to bring internet access to almost 5 million people.
But a major challenge with providing internet access in Cote d’Ivoire, and indeed all of Africa, is electricity. Given that electricity is frequently unavailable, insufficient or unreliable in many parts of Africa, the partnership therefore thought it brilliant to include power infrastructure support.
It has therefore undertaken to deploy eight solar powered towers to help provide connectivity to households, small businesses and hotspots. Microsoft believes this access to power will empower greater access to education, healthcare, and employment and bring more digital opportunities to more people across Cote d’Ivore and indeed the African continent.
“Through partnering with Microsoft’s Airband Initiative, organizations have additional support to create the infrastructure needed to provide connectivity support in many different ecosystems that ultimately drives self-empowerment and sustainable development and growth. These partnerships are essential in providing local expertise and experience to help achieve a greater goal tied to what can be harnessed with the support of connectivity.”
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