With so much focus on the broadband spectrum auctions and the TV digital migration making more spectrum available, the question that arises is: “Is TV White Spaces (TVWS) technology still worth considering as an option to provide more people with affordable access to the internet?”
WAPA believes it is a viable and economic option, but rapid action is required from ICASA to activate the geolocation spectrum database (GLSD) or appoint a service provider to manage the database as well as publish the licence fee or make it a free access. Currently the spaces are managed by a secondary GLSD overseen by the CSIR.
South Africa was an early innovator in piloting internet access on the unused frequencies between TV channels but while technical trials have been carried out in the Western Cape and Limpopo, the commercial and economic aspects were not investigated until two years ago, when the Wireless Access Providers Association (WAPA) embarked on a large-scale commercial trial in association with a consortium. The consortium of South African and US partners included Stadia Capital, Adaptrum, International Data Corporation (IDC), Microsoft, Project Isizwe and the United States Trade Development Agency (USTDA). The project, which was aimed at demonstrating the technical, socio-economic and commercial benefits of TVWS, ended recently and a detailed report is expected to be published by the WAPA soon. Technologically speaking, internet connectivity on TV White Spaces is not much of a challenge. Using TVWS in the 470-694 MHz frequency band on a secondary basis, (excluding radio astronomy sub-band 606 MHz to 610MHz) has proven to be an excellent technical solution. The USTDA provided $1 million to kick-start the research project. The purpose of the study was to demonstrate TVWS as a commercially relevant and optimal solution for connecting rural South Africa. The end result of the feasibility study will be documented into a technical analysis, a financial feasibility study and an executive paper which will show the following findings of the main elements of the commercial trial and study:
• the population density TVWS is best suited to serve;
• the topology best suited to using TVWS;
• the average revenue per user which can be safely assumed once connectivity is in place; and
• the predicted return on investment periods.
TVWS have many advantages over the 2 and 5 GHZ bands The key advantage of TVWS deployment is that the signal coverage can reach up to a 10 km radius from the base station without the requirement of line-of-sight. This makes it ideal for connecting people living in the rural undulating hills of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, as well as areas in other provinces where there is poor existing backhaul infrastructure. For the trial, each TVWS base station was connected at a bandwidth of 20 Mbps with a total of 30 Wi-Fi hotspots. The hotspots are scattered within walking distance of each citizen of the trial area. After the trial, wireless internet service providers (WISPS) in South Africa will have the opportunity to deploy as many as 1600 such base stations, reaching 50 000
hotspots servicing a potential 13 million rural citizens.
Expected development impacts
"We live in an unjust and unfair society,” said Paul Colmer of WAPA, who was intimately involved. “Low-income groups pay the highest price for data because they can only afford to buy small pay-as-you-go packages, yet they need it most. Their average cost of data is astronomical compared with higher income groups which pay as little as R2 – R3 per Gig. “We are a long way off the ITU call
The initial commercial feasibility study used leased and loaned equipment from Adaptrum, Isizwe and Microsoft. Three WAPA WISPS who supported the project are Airband (part of Herotel), Letaba and Mia Voice and Data. The full article is published in the April edition of EngineerIT. Click here.