Sampath Perera (centre), general manager of techenture consulting, explains the cross-platform capabilities of the Microsoft Lync software yesterday in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Phnom Penh Post
A technology called “Super Wi-Fi” that uses the frequency spectrum between television channels called “white spaces” could be a game-changing force in how people connect to the internet, especially in places like Cambodia.
The technology, which requires specialised equipment costing about US$2,000 for a base station would enable a fibre-optic line to connect with an antenna and create internet connectivity for users to connect wirelessly up to 20 kilometres away.
The Super Wi-Fi technology was one of the many topics discussed at Microsoft Technology Day at Hotel Cambodiana yesterday by Microsoft Senior Regional Business Development Manager John Cann, who is responsible for Microsoft’s relationships with donor agencies.
Cann and four others from Microsoft’s Singapore office joined Pily Wong, the software company’s country manager for Cambodia in an all-day series of presentations about software, education programs and with Microsoft’s local Cambodia partners and resellers.
“White space is a technology that is newly available commercially,” Cann said. “It uses the free spectrum in between channels.”
Cann said there were pilot tests on the technology currently running in the United States, Singapore and the United Kingdom. He said schools and even golf courses would be possible candidates for the new technology, which, using the same frequency spectrum as a television signal, had good capability to pass through walls and trees and other obstacles.
“The base station ends up like a router,” he said. “Instead of traditional Wi-Fi, you can send it 20 kilometres. This is a significant breakthrough for countries like Cambodia. This is the holy grail of rural connectivity and this is about one-10th the costs of 3G and 4G.”
During the Microsoft Technology Day, a group of about 50 technology professionals heard that the coming years are “game changing” as new technology is applied in places like Cambodia.
“Asia is the economic driver and the top of the world in ICT and ICT preparedness. Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia and New Zealand are all peak performers,” Cann said.
“Because you have people interacting with devices, there’s going to be a huge explosion of data, universally accessible though technologies available today. That’s going to be driven by cloud computing, the growth of broadband and greater accessibility as prices come down on devices.”
Other speakers at the event included Andrew Hodges, who directs the government operations for Microsoft in the APAC region.
Hodges said there was a huge shift under way, especially in Asia, in the way governments work with their citizens. He said the Singapore government’s decision to make it easier for its citizens to get internet access had resulted in up to 80 per cent of the population to do their taxes online.
“As an Australian coming to Singapore, I’ve been watching a fundamental shift. In Singapore internet access is freely available and that has totally changed the way citizens interact and the way education is provided,” he said.
Hodges said the trend was that governments were being pushed by citizens to adapt to trends pioneered by the private sector.
“Government has to provide the same kind of services that banks and others do,” he said.
He said Cambodia had a good chance of doing the same as Singapore because the young population here, with an average age of 22.5, was keen to adopt new technology.
“The core to driving any country forward is to make access to the internet a utility. The net benefit of having a free access utility rather than a pay per use is that it is a competitive advantage.”
Another speaker was Microsoft’s Education Programs Manager Felicia Brown who manages the “Partners in Learning” program, which has eight million teachers around the world signed up, and focuses on how to develop skills and apply technology to teaching practices.
The program offers free software for educators called The Learning Suite, which teachers can access on the partners in learning network on www.pil-network.com.
“This is a professional learning network for teachers and it has all our free software on it,” Brown said.
There’s also an IT academy program aimed at developing work force skills around the IT industry that includes certification, she said.
“This gives you a qualification on top of your academic qualification,” she said.
Another program of interest to Cambodians is Microsoft’s BizSpark, where people can visit the website www.microsoft.com/bizspark/ and get free access to Microsoft’s development tools.
“This is a program to support startups,” said Microsoft Country Manager Pily Wong, “to encourage entrepreneurs to use technology.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at [email protected]