Demonstrating the Power of Super Wi-Fi at Rio+20

Since 2004, I’ve been working closely with more than 40 international organizations, including UN organizations, regional development banks and bilateral aid agencies – cultivating long-term and rewarding public-private partnerships. At Microsoft, we have worked hard to prioritize these relationships to see how technology can help achieve shared sustainable development goals and achieve real impact amongst underserved communities.

This week I’m in Rio de Janeiro with several colleagues for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20. We believe technology has an important part to play in the discussions at the highest level at Rio+20, and that technology is a crucial component of supporting sustainable development.

We’re also here presenting one of the most exciting and game changing technologies in recent memory: Super Wi-Fi. For several years now, Microsoft Research, in collaboration with industry and government partners, has been working on a technology that is commonly referred to as Super Wi-Fi. The technology uses unused, or inefficiently used, TV spectrum, and it does so without disrupting existing TV broadcasts, with far reaching applications for sustainable development. Super Wi-Fi has a few advantages over existing Wi-Fi technologies – it can cover between three and 10 times more distance and has the ability to transmit through walls and other barriers that normally stop Wi-Fi. This technology has the potential to help deliver on the goal many development experts and policy makers have of providing broadband access for all.

It is these characteristics that make Super Wi-Fi an ideal technology for rapid wide area network coverage in disaster scenarios. Our demonstration of Super Wi-Fi is in the UNEP Pavilion in the Athlete’s Park, and features a version of the rapid response platform. The platform, initiated as a public-private partnership by the Luxembourg Ministry of Foreign Affairs together with Skype, HITEC Luxembourg, SES Techcom and Luxembourg Air Ambulance, is designed to help the humanitarian relief community in the field to (re-)establish broadband access for first responders. The platform provides a satellite infrastructure and satellite capacity, communication terminals and rapid deployment logistics.
We are showing how the base station (provided by our partner Neul) and client devices can opportunistically leverage TV band white spaces spectrum (Super Wi-Fi) to significantly expand the rapid deployment kit’s terrestrial network coverage – providing just the kind of almost instant wide area network so critically needed in these situations. Our partner, Steepest Ascent, will demonstrate TV white space base stations powered by a renewable hybrid wind and solar energy system that recharges a large battery pack with more than 100 hours of standby time.

While this technology can save lives, it can also help countries enhance economic competitiveness, for instance in their tourism industries. I recently contributed to a book launched on June 20th, Green Growth and Travelism: letters from leaders, along with 45 other mainly environmental leaders from the public and private sectors like Richard Branson and U.N. World Tourism Organization Secretary General Taleb Rifai, that analyzes different elements of sustainable development in the global tourism industry. In my chapter, I discussed how Super Wi-Fi is an important new tool which can enable more people to travel, communicate while abroad and access more and more online services while supporting the tourism infrastructure and growth of local economies.

Recently, I blogged about the potential for this technology as a key component for providing broadband access to the billions of people currently without access. Rio+20 is a great opportunity to reinforce Microsoft’s commitment to this technology and to explore the many benefits it can provide when applied in the development context. There will surely be many important declarations and fresh momentum given to sustainable development after Rio+20, and I hope that Super Wi-Fi factors squarely into that agenda.

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