TV ‘white space’ trial makes the connection

12 November 2013

A trial to show that television “white spaces” can be used in South Africa to deliver high-speed broadband internet access without interfering with existing TV channels has been a success, Google South Africa announced on its blog on Friday.

TV white space (TVWS) technology makes use of the spectrum between TV channels to serve up wireless broadband. Because the low-frequency signals can travel long distances, they can deliver low-cost access in remote areas that lack telecommunications networks. It can also be used to extend coverage of wireless broadband in cities.

In March, a six-month trial was set up at 10 schools in Cape Town by a group made up of Google, the CSIR Meraka Institute, the Tertiary Education and Research Network (Tenet), the e-Schools Network, the Wireless Access Providers’ Association, and Carlson Wireless.

The goal of the trial was to show that TVWS could be used to deliver affordable broadband and Internet services without interfering with TV broadcast, according to the report on the trial on Tenet’s website.

It was also intended to increase awareness of the potential for TVWS technology in South Africa and across the continent.

The TVWS network comprised multiple base stations located on top of Tygerberg Hospital, which delivered broadband Internet service to the schools which are all within a 10-kilometre radius. According to WAPA, each school received dedicated 2.5Mbps service with fail-over to ADSL to prevent downtime during school hours.

“After six months, the trial has been a success,” Fortune Sibanda, a policy manager at Google South Africa, wrote on the blog. “The participating schools, which previously had slow or unreliable internet connections, experienced high-speed broadband access for the first time.”

The trial demonstrated both positive feedback and increased internet usage by participating schools, WAPA added.

But, perhaps most importantly, the “thorough measurements gathered during the trial show that TV white spaces can be used to deliver wireless internet service without causing interference to primary users,” said Ntsibane Ntlatlapa, manager of networks and media competency area at CSIR Meraka Institute. “The outcomes highlight the potential of TVWS to help bridge the digital divide and open up access to under-served and rural areas.”

Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), South Africa’s communications regulator, reportedly plans to use the trial outcomes as inputs into the TVWS regulatory process. “This is a big step to bringing this technology to more of South Africa,” Sibanda said.

“We also hope the results extend far beyond this trial and can be useful in encouraging others to consider TVWS to help bring the power of the Internet to more people in more parts of the world,” Sibanda said.

The government has set itself the medium-term target of delivering broadband to 80 percent of South Africans by 2020.

SAinfo reporter