Microsoft on Wednesday launched the implementation phase of the second TV white space trial in South Africa, providing wireless broadband over a "white space" network to underserved communities in Limpopo province in a bid to validate the technology as a means of providing low-cost, high-speed internet connectivity in developing countries.
Groundwork for the pilot project, which follows Google's launch of a similar pilot among 10 schools in Cape Town last March, first started in July 2013.
In both cases, the trials seek to demonstrate that broadband can be offered over white spaces - unused channels in the broadcast TV spectrum - without interfering with licensed spectrum holders, while offering an affordable means of democratising broadband internet access.
The government has set itself the medium-term target of delivering broadband to 80 percent of South Africans by 2020.
Microsoft is partnering on the project with the Department of Science and Technology, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and local network builder and equipment vendor Multisource.
The first beneficiaries of the project will be the University of Limpopo and five high schools within an 8-kilometre radius of the university.
Speaking at a launch event at the university on Wednesday, Vice-Chancellor Mahlo Mokgalong said the project would help students at the schools and the university to become "true 21st century students and, eventually, valuable employees".
Microsoft South Africa MD Mteto Nyati said: "We need to enable our citizens to live, work and play on the global stage ... Almost 60 percent of employees in a recent 21st century skills study said they developed most of the skills they use in their current jobs outside of school."
The Department of Science and Technology's Isaac Maredi said the project would serve as a testing ground "for developing a nationally applicable model that will meet government's goal of providing low-cost broadband access to the majority of South Africans by 2020, in line with the Cabinet-approved broadband policy and ICT vision, as set out in the National Development Plan."
The project is one of four TV white space trials that Microsoft is running in Africa. Last year, it launched trials in Kenya and Tanzania that combine white space technology with solar power to deliver high-speed internet access in areas not even connected to the national electricity grid. And earlier this year, it launched a similar trial in Ghana.
The company also has trials under way or completed in the UK, Singapore and the Philippines.