Google tests white spaces as rural educational broadband solution

internet cables

internet cables

White spaces — spare channels in the TV broadcast spectrum — will soon be transformed into broadband delivery mechanisms for schools and rural areas in South Africa, care of Google, ICASA and those willing to give the TV white space (TVWS) project a chance. Here’s the skinny:

The TVWS network will operate from the university town of Stellenbosch, which itself provides free Wi-Fi for its citizens, as it attempts to deliver low-cost internet to ten schools within a ten-kilometre area. The speeds will be an estimated, and fairly healthy 2.5Mbps, with each school having been selected based on, amongst other things, local IT support and base station proximity. Three base stations in Stellenbosch will broadcast the “affordable broadband” signal according to the Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa (TENET), a partner in the programme.

The trial has “goals” it need to attain. Firstly, that affordable broadband technology can be pushed out on the white spaces network without disrupting the precious TV signals for licensed spectrum holders. Second, to increase awareness of TVWS across South Africa and the rest of the continent.

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.

White space is a broadband technology with interesting potential. Google says that white space is ideally suited for rural communities, densely populated urban areas and populations with “poor telecommunications infrastructure”. These are low-frequency signals that can cover a great distance, like a mega-cloud on steroids. Google has a decent image here which neatly explains the setup:

“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,” says Google South Africa country manager Luke McKend.

TVWS began in September 2012 when the project was given permission to begin setup. Right now, it’s launch day. While South Africa is the test bed for white space connectivity, the technology has legs in other countries, specifically the UK which is currently “working on a model regulatory framework based on a licence-exempt or ‘managed access’ use of television white spaces spectrum”. White spaces are also seeing some action in the US as well, with Google tested the technology earlier this month in selected cites.



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