3 April 2013
Search engine giant Google has launched the first TV white space trial in South Africa, providing wireless broadband over a “white space” network to 10 schools in Cape Town in a test project that aims to help establish a new model for internet connectivity in developing countries.
Google has been a strong advocate of using white spaces – unused channels in the broadcast TV spectrum – to democratise broadband internet access.
Democratising internet access
Announcing the launch of the South Africa trial last week, Google said that TV white space technology “offers the potential to improve internet connectivity where it is most needed – in the developing world.
“TV white space’s lower frequencies can travel longer distances, making the technology well suited to provide low-cost connectivity to rural communities with poor telecommunications infrastructure. It is also used for expanding coverage of wireless broadband in densely populated urban areas.”
The service will be broadcast to the 10 Cape Town schools from three base stations located at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences in Tygerberg.
The trial will seek to demonstrate that broadband can be offered over white spaces without interfering with licensed spectrum holders.
‘Cutting edge of innovation’
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR’s) Meraka Institute will confirm the results by taking spectrum measurements and reporting back to local broadcasters and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).
Luke Mckend, Google South Africa’s country manager, said Google was looking forward “to opening discussions with policy makers around a regulatory framework that will support the wider use of TV white space to deliver wireless broadband internet across the country.”
Other partners in the trial include e-Schools Network, the Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa (Tenet), and US wireless communication solutions provider Carlson Wireless.
Arno Hart, project manager at Tenet, said the trial “brings South Africa to the cutting edge of innovation in terms of improving internet connectivity, and is a very positive step towards bringing many more South Africans online. This trial will also be used to inform the regulatory process in South Africa.”
Microsoft launches pilot in Kenya
According to Google, white space technology is gaining momentum around the world.
“In the US, it is already available for licensed exempt uses. In the UK, regulator Ofcom is working on a model regulatory framework based on a licence-exempt or ‘managed access’ use of television white spaces spectrum.
“We hope the results of the trial will drive similar regulatory developments in South Africa and other African countries.”
And Google is not the only major IT player looking into the new technology. In February, Microsoft announced a pilot project with the Kenyan government and local internet service provider Indigo Telecom to provide low-cost, high-speed wireless broadband in the East African country.
According to Microsoft, the initiative – dubbed “Mawingu”, which is Kiswahili for cloud – would involve the first deployment of solar-powered base stations working together with TV white spaces to deliver high-speed internet access to areas lacking even electricity.
Microsoft said it hoped to implement similar pilots in east and southern Africa in the coming months to further explore the commercial feasibility of TV white space technology.
“These pilots will be used to encourage other African countries to accelerate legislation that would enable this TV white space technology to deliver on the promise of universal access for Africa,” the company said.