Microsoft aims to widen Internet reach in rural

Microsoft wants to play a big role in taking the 'last mile' of broadband connections to remote and inaccessible parts of India and providing access to high-speed internet.
Microsoft aims to widen Internet reach in rural

After Facebook, Microsoft now wants to play a big role in taking the ‘last mile’ of broadband connections to remote and inaccessible parts of India and providing access to high-speed internet.

The US software giant, headed by Hyderabad-born Satya Nadella, has proposed to the telecom department the deployment of its TV WhiteSpace technology for a pilot project in Bangaluru.

The radio interface developed by Microsoft functions like Wi-Fi on a bigger scale. It provides wireless connectivity across a 10 km radius, a much larger area than the typical routers set up for commercial use today, and speeds of up to 16Mbps, eight times faster than what is generally available in most parts of India.


Experts say this technology has been successfully implemented in the US and in Singapore and is being tested in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and the Philippines, among others.

Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft has discussed the matter with the Wireless Planning & Coordination wing of the telecom department to which it submitted the proposal four weeks ago. The idea is to provide cost-effective connectivity, the company’s India chairman Bhaskar Pramanik told ET.

The TV WhiteSpace technology works on chunks of unused spectrum available in broadcasting bands in the lower frequencies from 200MHz to 700MHz. Microsoft is running pilots in Africa and a handful of developed markets using the ‘gap’ between airwaves used by multiple broadcasters.

As part of Microsoft’s efforts to provide digital infrastructure in India, CEO Nadella, during his visit to India last month, announced that the company would also set up three data centres in the country by December 2015. These data centres will enable access to customers in banking and financial services as well as the central and state governments.

Many such services are currently legally restrained as they require data to be hosted within the country. The company hopes to partner the government in new initiatives such as Smart Cities and the Jan Dhan Yojana, apart from Digital India, which offer significant opportunity for hosting data and cloud services.

The company’s proposal comes in the light of Nadella’s comments that the major was keen to partner with the Indian government and industry at large to help to make the ambitious Digital India vision a reality.The Centre’s Rs 1.13 lakh-crore Digital India initiative envisages delivering e-services such as health and education to every nook and corner of the country broadband.

The US giant becomes the latest global player that wants to collaborate with the government in its Rs 20,100-crore national broadband project aimed at connecting 2.5 lakh village panchayats through highspeed broadband by 2017. This broadband project — the National Optic Fibre Network — is positioned to form the backbone of the Digital India programme.

Reaching homes, schools, hospitals and other institutions may require wireless technology, especially in hard-to-reach areas. This is where the technology giants such as Facebook and Microsoft sniff an opportunity to deploy their respective technologies."I believe TV WhiteSpace can be the affordable answer to last-mile connectivity challenges in India, especially for remote areas that lack electricity and other infrastructure," Pramanik said. It costs less than Rs 10 lakh to install a WhiteSpace technology router..

For India, Microsoft would make use of as much as 19 percent of spectrum unused by Doordarshan, the national TV broadcaster, in the sub gigahertz band. The technology globally uses gaps between airwaves that are untouched by broadcasters to avoid interference or disturbance between transmissions, according to an expert, who asked not to be identified.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who visited India soon after Nadella, reportedly had expressed the company’s desire to deploy alternative technology to provide last-mile connectivity to the national broadband project.

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