The Microsoft Airband Initiative: Bridging The Digital Divide in Kenya’s Marginalized Areas

Kenya, one of the fastest growing countries in East Africa has rapidly embraced technological innovations and mostly in mobile communication. However the opportunities offered by ICT technologies-telephones, radio, internet and video no matter how affordable high speed internet is unevenly distributed and out of reach for a large portion of our population.

Research shows that 49% of the world population- especially those that live in in marginalized and economically disadvantaged areas lack internet connectivity. The rural areas where incomes and lack of opportunity are low can deter investment in capital-intensive infrastructure. There has been growing disparity between those who have access to information and those who don’t and the Latter are the majority especially in Kenya.

Luckily, the introduction of low cost technologies has narrowed the digital divide. The technologies have managed to reach many people from the urbanites to the people in most marginalized areas of our country. This has encouraged investments in capital intensive infrastructure and we can now see local network providers partnering with foreign investors such as Microsoft in a bid to bridge the gap.

The Microsoft industries are the best investors to partner with because they are on the forefront at fighting to bridge the digital divide in marginalized areas. The company created the Microsoft Airband Initiative which is a holistic partnership-based program which invests in new last-mile access technologies, cloud based services and business models to help reduce the cost of internet and help more people affordably get online.

Mawingu Networks embrace the Microsoft Airband Initiative

One Local network that is taking the initiative is Kenya’s Very own Mawingu network.  They have partnered with Microsoft to provide affordable high-speed wireless internet access in marginalized communities in Kenya by leveraging low cost wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi, TV white space and fixed microwave.

Consumers can pay as little as USD 1 per month (KSh100) for prepaid internet access and device charging- be it a phone, laptop, MI-Fi , because most of the rural areas lack constant supply of electricity. These rates are very affordable for people even in the least marginalized areas who live under the dollar-a-day margin.

The change brought about by the access of internet is very evident and has changed communication in the rural areas.  A good example is in the central region of Kenya where Mawingu networks have  provided Wi-Fi access more broadly to the residents and this has allowed them to contact emergency medical services and alert Ambulances of where help is needed by using simple internet based communication apps such as M-Tiba.

How the Partnership with Microsoft works

  • Mawingu uses Microsoft’s Azure in managing the communication. Microsoft Azure is a hybrid cloud that enables Mawingu Network to optimize their assets and manage the costs by placing them on the premise or in the cloud to ensure enhanced customer experience.
  • They also use Azure to help manage costs and maintain a reliable and high Availability network for its customers.
  • The AI and data services from Azure enable real-time analysis to determine the health of the network, to optimize the use of wireless spectrum and to identify and predict growth patterns.

What Microsoft’s Initiative brings to the Table?

  • Local network operators can leverage Microsoft Cloud to cost effectively deploy high-speed internet access services that deliver to customers fast, reliable and affordable internet access.
  • The hybrid cloud can also help network operators better deploy and manage assets and services, improve the quality of services and better understand their customers’ needs.
  • The Microsoft cloud also provides network operators access to scale as well as the ability to scale up and roll out new services more rapidly




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