Inside Google’s Innovative African Broadband Trial

David Meyer | GigaOM | July 3, 2013

Summary:  Google is involved in a groundbreaking trial of “white space” technology, taking place in Cape Town, South Africa. Just a few months in, it’s already making a real difference for local schools.

Broadband connectivity is getting more widespread by the day, but the industry is still experimenting with new techniques to spread it further. Google and Microsoft, for example, are both using trials in Africa to test out a new wireless technology called white space broadband. Google’s trial is taking place in Cape Town and, seeing as I was on holiday there in the second half of June, I couldn’t resist popping along to see how it’s going.

I’m very glad I did so. For an experiment that’s only supposed to deliver humble speeds of 2.5Mbps to each of the 10 participating schools, it’s turned out to be a lot more useful than I initially thought it might. Although the schools generally already had ADSL broadband lines, these are of very poor quality, mostly thanks to Telkom’s monopoly in South Africa. The white space broadband trial is delivering up to 10Mbps per school, which makes a real difference — it’s perfectly normal for a Telkom line to deliver speeds that are only measurable in kilobits per second.