Microsoft and State Bank of India in talks to bring banking to rural India with White Space

The State Bank of India is reportedly in talks with Microsoft to bring digital banking for rural India where access to telecom networks is sparse or unreliable.

Microsoft, of course, wants to utilize its white space technology; the company has been testing its white space implementation in Srikakulam, in the Andhra Pradesh state of India. Andhra Pradesh is also the home state of Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella.

White Space

While Google is building a mesh network of balloons in the stratosphere, and Facebook is building a mesh network of micro-satellites in low-earth orbit; Microsoft is very much down-to-earth with its plans, both literally and figuratively.

The term “white space” refers to unused radio frequencies that lie dormant for one reason or another. In the case of India, the most common reason would be the abandonment of analog television; these frequencies are no longer used to broadcast TV signals and thus represent empty “white space.”

Microsoft’s white space network is dubbed as Wide-Fi or WiFi-XL depending on whom you ask; however, the technology has nothing to do with WiFi, despite its name.

There are still costs

Microsoft Research had to develop the technology to broadcast the internet over a long distance from scratch; the internet is a two-way communication stream, so the technology not only has to broadcast information but also receive it.

The technology, therefore, will require villages to install and power the equipment to convert these signals to something their smartphones or computers could use – presumably, regular WiFi.

The last mile, therefore, still has costs associated with it, including the requirement of powering the equipment.


As always is the case; Microsoft has hit a few roadblocks – not with the development of their technology, but with politics.

India often auctions off its radio bands to the highest bidder – it makes quite a lot of money for the government. The companies operating cellular networks in India have all had to pay the exorbitant prices that these auctions can reach.

Then, unsurprisingly; the Cellular Operators Association of India has argued that the white space bands should not be “handed out” to Microsoft, but rather auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Microsoft says it requires about 100 Mhz of band to make the technology work and argues that it should be made available for free – like WIFi is.

Since the State Bank of India is now interested in the technology; it’s clear that the Indian government is looking for ways to extend internet connectivity to its rural population. The arrow of time will decide whether these efforts come to fruition or be abandoned.

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