Microsoft and Viasat have joined forces to help deliver internet access to 10 million people around the globe, including 5 million across Africa. Viasat, a global communications company, is the first satellite partner to work with Microsoft’s Airband Initiative and together, they will deepen Airband’s work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States, as well as prioritise expanding the program to Egypt, Senegal, and Angola to deliver much needed internet connection, often for the first time.

This first of its kind global partnership for Airband is an important step in reaching the initiative’s expanded goal of delivering internet access to a quarter of a billion people across the world, including 100 million people on the continent of Africa, by the end of 2025.

An extension of the Airband initiative, Microsoft has been working with internet service provider AirJaldi in India since 2016 to connect thousands of people in rural and semi-urban parts of India with internet access. AirJaldi buys bandwidth from major telecom companies in India, interconnects to the existing infrastructure, and extends its network into under-covered or uncovered areas, utilising Microsoft’s Airband technology.

According to the International Telecommunication Union at the UN, an estimated 37 per cent of the world’s population – or 2.9 billion people – have still never used the internet. Satellite allows internet access to reach remote areas that previously have had few, if any, options for conventional connectivity. Working together, the companies will combine expertise and assets to help enable telehealth, distance learning and education, precision agriculture, clean power and other services to reach new areas through the transformational provision of power and connectivity. The companies will collaborate to provide and pilot technologies including, but not limited to, satellites (both geostationary orbit and low earth orbit (LEO)) and fixed wireless.

Commenting on the development, Teresa Hutson, corporate vice president, Tech and Corporate Responsibility Group, Microsoft, said, “We believe access to the internet is a fundamental right and that digital skills create and enable economic prosperity for people, businesses, and governments. 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. Working with Viasat, we will use satellite to reach remote areas that previously have had few, if any, options for conventional connectivity. Together, we will be able to rapidly scale and expand Airband’s reach, exploring a wider pipeline of projects and new countries where we haven’t yet worked.”

Meanwhile, Mark Dankberg, CEO and chairman, Viasat, said, “Connecting the world is an expansive and challenging goal, and we believe it is equally important that it is done in a way that is sustainable, responsible, and inclusive. Viasat’s mission is to keep space safe and accessible for everyone by responsibly using it as a shared resource to benefit humanity. The partnership with Microsoft is another important step in bringing affordable internet service across Africa, Latin America and the U.S.A, as both companies continue breaking down barriers to bridge the digital divide and make significant progress towards digital equity and inclusion.”

Through Airband, Microsoft has already delivered high-speed internet access to more than 51 million people globally, including over 4 million in unserved US rural communities and an additional 47 million in 16 unserved and underserved countries outside of the US. Launched in 2017, Microsoft’s Airband Initiative works through partnerships with local and regional internet and energy access providers, telecom equipment makers, non-profits, as well as governmental and nongovernmental organisations, to advance access to affordable internet and relevant digital skills around the world. Microsoft believes access to the Internet is a fundamental right for everyone as it delivers access to education, information, and personal needs fulfillment. This partnership builds upon the existing relationship between Viasat and Microsoft Azure Space to deliver advances in satellite connectivity and furthers Microsoft’s mission to connect anyone, anywhere on the planet.