Trial brings SA to cutting edge of innovation to improve internet connectivity

Google and partners have announced today the launch of a TV White Spaces trial with ten schools in the Cape Town area. White spaces are unused channels in the broadcast TV spectrum. They offer the potential to improve Internet connectivity where they are most needed – in the developing world.

The advantage of white spaces is that low frequency signals can travel longer distances, making the technology well suited to provide low cost connectivity to rural communities with poor telecommunications infrastructure, and for expanding coverage of wireless broadband in densely populated urban areas.

Dr Ntsibane Ntlatlapa, Manager, Networks and Media Competency Area at CSIR Meraka Institute, added, “We believe that TVWS could help to bridge the digital divide, transmitting Internet data over long distances, opening up access to underserved communities and rural areas. The evidence gathered from the trial show that TVWS can be used to deliver wireless Internet services without causing interference to primary users of the spectrum.”

The service will be broadcast from three base stations located on top of Stellenbosch University Medical School. Ten schools in the Cape Town area will receive wireless broadband equal to or better than their current level service. During the trial in Cape Town, the group of partners will attempt to show that broadband can be offered over white spaces without interfering with licensed spectrum holders. To prevent interference with other channels, the network uses Google’s spectrum database to determine white space availability. To confirm results, the CSIR Meraka Institute will take spectrum measurements and frequently report back to ICASA and the local broadcasters.

Arno Hart, Project Manager at TENET, said “This TVWS technology 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 be used to inform the regulatory process in South Africa”.

Google supported its first white space trial in the US in 2010, and recently launched its spectrum database for 45 day public comment period with the FCC. In October 2011, Google hosted a workshop in Johannesburg, along with partners, at which the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) lent support for an industry-led white spaces trial in South Africa. Google then worked together with the CSIR Meraka Institute, Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa, e-Schools Network, the Wireless Access Providers Association, Comsol Wireless Solutions, Carlson Wireless, and Neul to take up the challenge.

Comsol Wireless Solutions (a WAPA member and vendor partner) has nearly two decades of specialist wireless solutions experience and is responsible for the system integration and in-field maintenance of the trial.

Luke Mckend, Google South Africa Country Manager said, “We are pleased to be part of this exciting new development – the first of its kind in South Africa – and look forward to opening discussions with policy makers around a regulatory framework that will support the wider use of TVWS to deliver wireless broadband Internet across the country.”

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. Partners hope the results of the trial will drive similar regulatory developments in South Africa and other African countries.

To read more about the trial background, please visit TENET’s website.