Microsoft hopes to lift Africa into the digital age with a continent-specific smartphone and a ground-breaking broadband pilot.
The software giant has teamed up with Chinese mobile manufacturer Huawei to create a budget smartphone to be marketed solely in Africa – the Huawei 4Afrika, a full-functionality Windows Phone 8 preloaded with applications tailored for the continent.
The device is being launched today as the first step in Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative to place tens of millions of smart devices in the hands of African youth and bring 1 million African small and medium-sized enterprises online.
The initiative also aims to “upskill” 100,000 members of Africa’s existing workforce and help an additional 100,000 recent graduates develop employability skills, 75 per cent of whom Microsoft will help place in jobs.
Fernando de Sousa, general manager of the 4Afrika Initiative, said: “The world has recognised 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.
“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.”
The new phone will initially be available in Angola, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa later this month and will be targeted at university students, developers and first-time smartphone users.
Microsoft has also announced plans for 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.
Called “Mawingu”, the Kiswahili for cloud, the program will use TV white spaces and solar-powered base stations to deliver high-speed Internet access to areas currently lacking even basic electricity.
TV white spaces, the unused portions of wireless spectrum in the frequency bands generally used for television, use radio signals that travel over longer distances and penetrate more obstacles than other types of radio signals and, therefore, require fewer base stations to provide universal coverage.
It is hoped the pilot will encourage other African governments to make the necessary legal and regulatory changes that would allow this type of technology to be deployed continent wide.
Louis Otieno, legal and corporate affairs director for Africa initiatives, said: “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.
“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.”