The backbone of a knowledge society is a well-developed, well-maintained and affordable information infrastructure that allows access to, and manipulation of the dematerialized economy.Information is power, and before mobiles came along, access to data was limited for millions of Africans. Internet access is taken for granted by people in the developed world. However, the story in Africa is different since access is a major challenge.
In the United States, for example, according to Pew Research, about 72 percent of people have home broadband internet access, but 60 million people are still living without it.
According to the US National Intelligence Council (2008), by 2025 Internet nodes may reside in everyday things—food packages, furniture, paper documents, and more. Today’s developments point to future opportunities and risks that will arise when people can remotely control, locate, and monitor even the most mundane devices and articles. Popular demand combined with technology advances could drive widespread of an Internet of Things (IoT).
White spaces in telecommunications refers to frequencies allocated to a broadcasting service but not used locally. TV White Space is the unused TV channels between the active ones in the Very High Frequency (VHF) and the UltraHigh frequency (UHF in the range between 300 MHZ and 3 GHz, also known as the decimetre band spectrum. These are typically referred to as the “buffer” channels. The technology is a spectrum of broadcast frequencies, typically used to transmit TV channels from one location to another, harnessed for wireless networks.
TV White Space is revolutionizing affordable broadband and making it possible for people to have access to Internet services. White Space Internet uses a part of the radio spectrum known as White spaces (radio). This frequency range is created when there are gaps between television channels. These spaces can provide broadband internet access that is similar to that of 4G mobile.
The White Space broadband can travel up to 10 kilometers, through vegetation, buildings, and other obstacles.
There is growing recognition across the globe that dynamic spectrum sharing, especially on the television white spaces (TVWS), enabled by geo-location databases has significant potential to increase the availability and ubiquity of broadband access. This unused spectrum is being used to provide broadband Internet access while operating harmoniously with surrounding TV channels.
Since mid-2013, when the Gigabit Libraries Network first initiated the Libraries WhiteSpace Pilot in the US, various library groups have started deploying TVWS networks with remote Wi-Fi access points in parks, public squares, underserved library branches and in other publicly accessible spaces in their communities and especially for their dual use potential for disaster readiness and recovery. Pilot has begun to show the value, ease of installation, flexibility and limits of this new free public broadband resource by wirelessly delivering broadband connectivity over distances of miles as well as by providing the leading use case for TVWS as inexpensive intermediate broadband delivery system to under/unserved populations.
There has been several TVWS pilot testing all over the world, specially in Africa region. For all these pilots, no interference with the current broadcast TV service have been identified. A pilot project in Kenya by Indigo Telecom/Microsoft and the Kenyan government is delivering bandwidth speeds of up to 16 Mbit/s to three rural communities, which lack electricity.
In Namibia, a pilot project called “Citizen Connect,” a collaboration between the Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative, the MyDigitalBridge Foundation, and the Millennium Challenge Account Namibia, is delivering broadband Internet to “twenty-seven schools and seven circuit offices of the Ministry of Education.Through this initiative, the initiators are able to connect secluded areas to ensure that schools can communicate with other schools, businesses and nations.
In September 2013, the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) in partnership with the University of Malawi and the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Italy, initiated a trial to provide a platform for the improvement of e-services (e-health, e-education, e-commerce) as well as increase access to mobility and service delivery. This project was able to use TV White Space broadband to connect a school, an airport, a research facility, and a hospital.
TV White space has been used in Cape Town, South Africa,to connect 10 to enable them have access to reliable and cost-effective broadband service. This trial (involving the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, the CSIR Mereka Institute, the wireless Access Providers Association (WAPA, Carlson Wireless, and others) was able to prove that TV White Space technology could operate efficiently without causing interference, even in a highly populated city environment. The service, which still provides sustainable broadband speeds to the schools involved, enables email service, digital learning, video access, Skype communications, and the ability to upload student grades and course details, transforming the educational system for these beneficiaries.
A number of trade groups, including the IEEE 802.11af and the White Spaces Coalition (which includes computer giants such as Microsoft, Google, Dell, HP, Intel, Philips, Earthlink, and Samsung), have advocated using white spaces left by the termination of analog TV to provide wireless broadband Internet access. The use of a “white-spaces device” (WSD) will assist in detecting the presence of existing but unused areas of airwaves, such as those reserved for analog television, and utilize these unused airwaves to transmit signals for Internet connectivity. This is expected to improve the availability of broadband Internet and Wi-Fi, especially in rural areas.
TV white space makes broadband internet access in Africa affordable for most users in isolated parts of Namibia that could not otherwise access using typical café Wi-Fi. The distance of the frequency waves from the TV towers is much farther than a basic modem signal radius.
TV white space has the potential to address global connectivity challenges.
Osei K. Darkwa, Ph.D.