Piloting ‘white space’ broadband in SA

28 August 2013

Microsoft recently launched the second TV white space trial in South Africa, providing wireless broadband over a “white space” network to underserved communities in Limpopo province in a bid to validate the technology as a means of providing low-cost, high-speed internet connectivity in developing countries.

The pilot project, launched in July, follows Google’s launch in March of a similar pilot among 10 schools in Cape Town.

In both cases, the trials seek to demonstrate that broadband can be offered over white spaces – unused channels in the broadcast TV spectrum – without interfering with licensed spectrum holders, while offering an affordable means of democratising broadband internet access.

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

Google’s project partners include the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR’s) Meraka Institute, e-Schools Network, the Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa (Tenet), and US wireless communication solutions provider Carlson Wireless.

The CSIR is also involved with the Microsoft pilot, along with the University of Limpopo and local network builder Multisource, who together are using TV white spaces and solar-powered base stations to provide wireless broadband to five schools in remote parts of Limpopo province.

The project is also providing each of the schools with Windows-based tablets, projectors, teacher laptops and training, education-related content, solar panels for device charging where there is no access to electricity, and other support.

“Reducing the cost of broadband access means millions more South Africans will get online,” Microsoft South Africa MD Mteto Nyati said in a statement accompanying the launch of the pilot. “This will create new opportunities for education, healthcare, commerce and the delivery of government services across the country.”

This is Microsoft’s third TV white space trial in Africa. Earlier this year, it launched trials in Kenya and Tanzania that combined white space technology with solar power to deliver high-speed internet access in areas not even connected to the national electricity grid. It also has trials under way or completed in the UK, Singapore and the Philippines.

South African Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom welcomed the pilot, saying that global experience showed that access to broadband networks could provide greater economic, development and education opportunities in rural areas.

“We see a truly connected future in which all of South Africa’s major cities, towns and villages will be connected to affordable internet service, thereby facilitating the country’s mass entry into the knowledge and information economy,” Hanekom said in the Microsoft statement.

Microsoft is also advocating for laws and regulations that promote more efficient and effective spectrum use as a member of the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance, a global organisation launched in Singapore last month.

Paul Garnett, director at Microsoft’s Technology Policy Group, said governments throughout the world should “take note of the increasing momentum behind this technology and adopt forward-looking regulation that allows for more efficient use of spectrum for the benefit of all”.

SAinfo reporter