Nadella, who is in the country on Christmas holidays, also discussed with Prasad other ways in which Microsoft could partner in the government’s Digital India initiative. He was accompanied by the firm’s India head Bhaskar Pramanik.
“We have asked Microsoft to put forth concrete ways in helping achieve various social objectives under Digital India such as raising digital literacy,” Prasad said. A person privy to the discussion told ET, “The minister assured Nadella that the government would welcome all possible technological solutions to bring broadband connectivity to remote areas.”
During his visit, Nadella also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
The Hyderabad-born Nadella said Microsoft was committed to setting up data centres in India to promote the cloud first and mobile first strategy as a means to empower every citizen and business in the country. ET was the first to report that Microsoft had filed an application with the wireless planning and coordination wing in October to deploy White-Space technology for a pilot project in Bangalore.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was the first global CEO to speak to the telecom minister for deploying alternate technology in its case, solar drones for last mile connectivity, followed by Google, which offered to provide inexpensive internet access across India through a network of helium-filled balloons, and now Microsoft.
While Facebook and Google are yet to put in written requests to the government, Nadella on Friday told Prasad his company is eagerly awaiting the government’s approval to begin the pilot.
The White-Fi technology has already been successfully implemented in the US and Singapore and is being tested in Kenya, the Philippines, South Africa and Tanzania, among others. It works on chunks of unused spectrum available in broadcasting bands in the lower frequencies from 200 MHz to 700 MHz.
The government’s Rs 1.13 lakhcrore Digital India initiative envisages delivering e-services such as health and education to every nook and corner of the country over broadband by 2019.
Despite the government laying a nationwide optic fibre network, reaching homes, schools, hospitals and other institutions may require wireless technology, especially in hard-to-reach areas. This is where the technology giants such as Facebook and Microsoft hope to deploy their respective technologies.
According to Microsoft, it costs less than Rs 10 lakh to install a White-Space technology router.