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Broadband startup WhiteSpaces wants to bridge Nigeria’s digital divide

The Nigerian based startup, WhiteSpaces, wants to offer an affordable, reliable broadband solution to the country’s millions of unserved citizens. With a focus on low-end users and rural areas using TV WhiteSpaces technology, it’s recently announced its beta launch with 250 clients chosen out of a crop of 25 000.

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The technology, which relies on frequency bands usually set aside for television transmissions, has been popularly piloted by Microsoft 4Afrika and Google with support from Facebook and local tertiary institutions in Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya.

As further explained by WhiteSpaces, the tech solution lies in filling the unused gaps between TV channels in the UHF spectrum which are called white spaces. Since fewer TV stations broadcast in rural areas, TV white-space technology is a highly effective choice for rural communities, especially because UHF signal can penetrate foliage and works well in difficult terrain.

Founder Mark Afolabi says “Internet access is a really big deal, with the 6-7% broadband penetration in Nigeria the Internet and the Web have transformed our lives and the way we live. We want to bring this opportunity to the unserved and underserved people.”

Social architect Seunfunmi Akinola adds that affordable access to the internet will provide people with opportunities to access essential things like education. “WhiteSpaces will bridge the gap in the quality of online education and access and give kids and youth in underserved communities new opportunities to learn and acquire the skills that are essential to succeed in modern society regardless of their backgrounds,” she says.

Experience designer Segun Fagbami highlights some of the service’s potential:

“The private beta will allow us deploy high speed internet starting with Iworoko community in Ekiti State Nigeria. This community also has a university, public primary schools and a clinic established there, further understand community needs and tailor local contents and opportunities to users and also encourage regulatory bodies to accelerate regulations and policies that will enable WhiteSpaces on the promise of universal access.”

When it comes to pricing, the startup plans to offer free capped data to users on a monthly basis. Though people will also be able to upgrade for paid plans that offer unlimited data for between 1 500 and 2 000 Naira (US$9 to US$13) per month.

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