TV white spaces broadband trial: good news for SA

Google and other partners launched a TV White Spaces (TVWS) broadband trial in the Cape Town region in March 2013, and initial results show that the technology holds promise for South Africa.

Television White Spaces (TVWS) are vacant frequencies in the broadcast TV spectrum and have characteristics that are highly desirable for wireless communications, offering the potential to improve Internet connectivity where they are most needed in the developing world.

The aim of these trials is to demonstrate that broadband can be offered over white spaces without interfering with licensed spectrum holders.

Google SA spokesperson Julie Taylor said that the TVWS trial forms part of its initiative to improve Internet access and get more people online in South Africa and Africa.

TVWS broadband technology looks promising

Initial results from the Cape Town TVWS broadband trial look very promising. This is according to a source close to the technical aspects of the trial, who asked not to be named.

He said that there have been no complaints about interference, and the service is working as expected. The source also said that the results to date show that it will probably be recommended that TV white spaces be made available for use, following certain equipment installation guidelines.

TV White Spaces
TV White Spaces (image courtesy of Spectrum Bridge)

TVWS will help, but not the solution to all SA’s broadband needs

The source highlighted that white spaces technology is just another technological tool to be added to the toolbox to improve broadband access in South Africa.

“While white spaces promise additional spectrum, it certainly won’t solve all the bandwidth problems of any country,” he said.

Wireless expert Ermanno Pietrosemoli, president of the Escuela Latinoamerica de Redes (The Latin American Networking School Foundation), said that TVWS are promising for rural broadband. However, less so for dense urban areas.

Steve Song, Village Telco founder and an expert on TVWS, said in an online discussion that TVWS is as much a regulatory innovation as a technological innovation.

Steve Song
Steve Song

“Secondary spectrum use through a geo-location database and hopefully through spectrum sensing offers a real opportunity for regulators to by-pass the typically glacial process of spectrum re-allocation and re-farming,” said Song.

These comments give a clear indication that TVWS can be a valuable tool to provide South Africa with low frequency spectrum which is suitable for rural network deployments.

The value is unfortunately far less when looking to use TVWS to improve broadband access in cities.

Headline image courtesy of White Space Technologies

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TV white spaces broadband trial: good news for SA