Microsoft expands Airband initiative with Viasat partnership

Microsoft and satellite company Viasat announced a new partnership to help deliver internet access to 10 million people around the world, including 5 million across Africa.

It’s part of a bigger initiative to bring internet access to a quarter of a billion people around the world, including 100 million people on the continent of Africa, by the end of 2025.

The announcement was made at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

Vickie Robinson, general manager of the Airband Initiative, said Africa is of special interest not only because “there’s so much opportunity there” but also because of the continent’s technological challenges, according to GeekWire. Only 40% of the African continent is online, and nearly 600 million Africans do not have access to electricity.

Microsoft previously has worked in the areas of TV white spaces, fixed wireless and Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) on internet service delivery. But Viasat is the first satellite partner to work with Airband.

Microsoft said it believes access to the internet is a fundamental right for everyone. Viasat believes everyone and everything in the world can be connected, so they make a good pair.

Together, they plan to deepen Airband’s work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States, as well as prioritize expanding the program to Egypt, Senegal and Angola.

Microsoft’s Airband Initiative, launched in 2017, works through partnerships with local and regional internet and energy access providers, telecom equipment makers and nonprofits – as well as governmental and other organizations – to advance access to the internet around the world.

“Through our Airband Initiative we will extend high-speed internet access to 100 million people on the continent of Africa and to a quarter of a billion people living in unserved and underserved areas across the world by 2025,” said Teresa Hutson, Microsoft’s vice president of Technology and Corporate Responsibility, in a press release. “Working with Viasat, we will use satellite to reach remote areas that previously have had few, if any, options for conventional connectivity.”

Through Airband, Microsoft and its partners have already delivered high-speed internet access to more than 51 million people globally, including over 4 million in unserved U.S. rural communities and an additional 47 million in 16 unserved and underserved countries outside the U.S.

This latest partnership builds upon the existing relationship between Viasat and Microsoft Azure Space to deliver advances in satellite connectivity. SpaceX is another Microsoft partner.

According to GeekWire, Robinson said she wouldn’t rule out bringing SpaceX’s Starlink into the Airband project.

“Anything’s possible,” she said, according to the news site.