Today, as the US-Africa Leaders Summit is underway in Washington DC, Microsoft is announcing new plans to deepen our work and scale our commitments to providing digital connectivity and skills building in Africa.
First, we are expanding our Airband Initiative through new partnerships with local and global providers to bring internet access to 100 million Africans by the end of 2025. This includes a new global partnership with satellite provider Viasat that will allow us to quickly scale and reach new markets. This is part of a broader global ambition for Airband to bring internet access to a quarter of a billion people around the world by the end of 2025.
Second, as access to the internet grows, so does the need for cybersecurity experts to defend the growing ecosystem of providers and users. We will support this by expanding our Skills for Jobs efforts in Africa to include a new cybersecurity skilling program.
A growing continent: Africa’s opportunity and challenge
The opportunity for Africa is extraordinary – the continent is emerging as one of the most important markets in the world, with the fastest growing population, projected to grow from 1.4 billion to almost 1.7 billion by 2030. It’s the youngest continent in the world with a median age of under 20 and 60% of the population under the age of 25. But to harness this potential and drive innovative, inclusive and sustainable growth, it will be critical to help Africa close its digital divide.
Today, only 40% of the African continent is online, and nearly 600 million lack access to electricity, significant barriers to realizing digital transformation and hindering growth. We believe access to internet is a fundamental right and we’ve been working to help deliver internet access to all through our Airband initiative, in close cooperation with governments, local communications providers, international aid organizations and nonprofits. And we’ve seen results – globally, we’ve helped provide access to more than 51 million people including 9 million in Africa. Through Airband, Microsoft has been providing the technology know-how, seed funding and a proven business model to engage with partners, and with today’s announcement we will scale this ambition even further.
Airband: Scaling broadband access through partnerships
Our work to expand Airband will begin immediately, through a new collaboration with global communications company Viasat, where, for the first time, we will use satellite to reach remote areas that previously have had few, if any, options for conventional connectivity. This new partnership builds on our approach to use every technology available to deliver connectivity based on what is best suited for a particular community whether that is fixed wireless, TV white spaces, fiber optics or Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS).
Partnerships are foundational to the success of Airband and, by working with Viasat, we will extend internet access to 10 million people globally, half of that in Africa. We will deepen our work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria and prioritize bringing Airband to new places in Africa including Egypt, Senegal, and Angola to deliver much-needed connections, often for the first time.
Africa is a vast and diverse continent, and a solution that is suitable for connecting customers in one location might not work at all in another. Airband works through local and regional partnerships to think holistically about what solutions work best. For example, electricity is frequently unavailable, insufficient or unreliable in many parts of Africa. To address this, we are partnering with sustainable energy access providers like M-KOPA, paired with local ISP Mawingu networks to offer solutions that address energy and internet connectivity challenges in Kenya. And in Ghana, we partnered with international ISP Bluetown to take a multi-technology approach – choosing fiber, microwave, satellite and TV white space (TVWS) to deliver solutions that meet local needs and take into consideration a community’s access to reliable power, proximity to a fiber connection, and geography such as hills or dense forest. Each solution is unique depending on a community and its environment.
Through Airband, we bring together an ecosystem of public and private organizations, including middle mile broadband providers, local ISPs for last-mile connectivity, energy partners, and organizations like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), that provides support, including for skilling work delivered through non-profits, so we can design and implement a local model in partnership with local governments.
Broadband is just the beginning
Beyond solving for internet access, as Africa increasingly connects to the internet, its citizens will also need to defend its growing digital ecosystem and protect new users. To help the continent’s digital capabilities continue to grow, we’ll help with needed cybersecurity skills. Microsoft will offer free access to LinkedIn cybersecurity courses as part of our Skills for Jobs program. This includes a new, free Career Essentials Certificate in Systems Administration from Microsoft and LinkedIn and multiple Microsoft courses in advanced cybersecurity. In addition, working with our nonprofit partners, Microsoft will provide 12 months of LinkedIn premium access for the first 10,000 African learners that complete a Career Essentials Certificate in Systems Administration, helping them connect to jobs in the cybersecurity field.
Microsoft has upskilled more than 4 million young people across Africa over the past five years through various skilling and employability programs including our Skills for Jobs program, which helped more than 1.5 million young people and jobs seekers in Africa over the past two years. We work with governments, nonprofits and international organizations as well, including the African Development Bank (AfDB) on the Coding for Employment program. And our government partnerships include our work on the Tawar w Ghayar (Develop and Change) initiative with the Egyptian government that has upskilled over 2 million young people, and our partnership with the Nigerian government that aims to reach up to 5 million across the country.
Microsoft has been present in Africa for more than 30 years and, today, we have more than 21,000 partners and 12 offices across the continent. We also established the Africa Transformation Office, which partners with public and private organizations working across sectors, technologies and borders to foster partnerships and develop solutions that will have a lasting impact. With today’s announcement, we’re increasing our investments to help people and governments across Africa in enabling transformation and economic prosperity.
This is just the beginning of the next chapter.
Tags: Airband initiative, broadband access, connectivity, digital access, digital divide, digital skills, Internet access