Critics say with the Huawei 4Afrika smartphone phone starting at $150, it is almost the double of the price of some alternative OS phone people could find in Cairo or Lagos, how do you respond to that?
First of all it’s important to note that the price for the phone will be determined by the operators in each market where it is sold, and we are still working to finalize these operator deals and look forward to sharing specifics in the coming weeks. More broadly, we decided to build a Windows Phone “4Afrika” with the top quality people expect from Microsoft, but at a very affordable price point, to facilitate access to this technology for more Africans. The Huawei 4Afrika phone is the first in what we expect will be a series of devices designed “4Afrika” over time. Every 4Afrika device will be designed to help address the specific needs of African consumers and businesses, by pre-loading it with content, apps and other offerings in order to ensure it delivered a highly relevant, high quality Windows Phone experience for Africans. While it may not be the cheapest smartphone on the continent, we believe that it will deliver incredibly high quality for cost.
The White spaces project is the most intriguing initiative in the 4Afrika package. Could you please describe it briefly and explain what is the purpose of the White spaces project?
To help improve technology access, Microsoft deployed 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 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. This pilot will serve up to 6,000 people, by implementing the technology at 20 select sites that create a multiplier effect: schools, healthcare clinics, government offices, and community centres. For example, computer labs in each of the schools will serve not only the approximately 200 students per school but also other members of the community, ensuring that several thousand people in total can take advantage of the technology. This video also helps bring the story to life.
We think this pilot is very unique for its aim to deliver high speed broadband to communities currently lacking electricity. The wireless broadband delivery and the recharging of devices will all be managed through solar power. The second key differentiator is our focus on testing the commercial feasibility of delivering access using unique and innovative business models, such as the work we’re doing with the local government agriculture office in this pilot. We believe both of these approaches are unmatched elsewhere in Africa.
White spaces spectrum is a technology developed by Microsoft Research, and is touted as “the next generation of wireless networks which will include software defined radios, cognitive radios, and multi-radio systems which will co-exist harmoniously while operating over a very wide range of frequencies.” Do you see the White spaces project expanding beyond Kenya in a near future?
Microsoft hopes to implement similar pilots in East and Southern Africa in the coming months to further explore the commercial feasibility of white space technologies. Our intent is to use these pilots to encourage other African countries to accelerate legislation that would enable this white spaces technology to deliver on the promise of universal access for the African Continent.
Thanks Fernando for answering our questions. Do you have anything else to add?
We are very proud to have been doing business in Africa for the past 20 years. As we looked forward to our next 20 years and thought about what we really wanted this 4Afrika Initiative to do, we knew we wanted to explore ways to link the growth of our business with initiatives that accelerate growth for the Continent. We believe the commitments we’ve made under the 4Afrika banner will help accomplish this dual goal. We see incredibly innovative things happening across the continent today, and we hope to be a catalyst for that innovation – to help 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. 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. We look forward to being part of this journey.
Mawuna Koutonin is a world peace activist who relentlessly works to empower people to express their full potential and pursue their dreams, regardless of their background. He is the Editior of SiliconAfrica.com, Founder of Goodbuzz.net, and Social activist for Africa Renaissance. Koutonin’s ultimate dream is to open a world-class human potential development school in Africa in 2017. If you are interested in learning more about this venture or Koutonin’s other projects, you can reach him directly by emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org.