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Boosting Internet Connectivity by Utilising White Spaces

11 May, 2013
ICT Africa Writer
May 11, 2013

Despite all the gains in Africa mobile penetration , Africa Internet penetration is only 16%. In other words, more than 800 million Africans do not have Internet access. The availability of spectrum for mobile broadband is one factor that has been blamed for the low Internet penetration. The use of “white spaces” technology could go a long way to boost Internet penetration in Africa.

“White spaces” refer to television and radio frequency spectrum that is not utilised. Television stations usually operate on the same or adjacent frequency channels. To prevent electromagnetic interference between radio stations operating on the same frequencies, radio stations are usually operated in geographically spaced locations. Because of sparse population distributions and other factors, not all television channels are utilised.

Because low frequencies travel long distance before they are attenuated, the use of lower frequency “white spaces” can facilitate the provisioning of lower cost broadband in rural.

In some parts of Africa, “white spaces” technology is being utilised to provide the much needed mobile broadband. In Kenya, Microsoft, through the 4Africa initiative, piloted the use of the technology in early 2010 to provide broadband connectivity to 60 000 users in the Rift Valley. The plan is to extend connectivity to 60 000 people in the Rift Valley area before rolling out nationwide. The technology is also being piloted in Tanzania by Microsoft.

In South Africa, Google announced a trial of the technology to provide broadband connectivity to ten schools in the Western Cape. Google’s aim is to demonstrate the viability of the technology with the hope that it will be widely deployed throughout South Africa and the rest of the continent.

The biggest challenge for the “white spaces” technology to be rolled out throughout Africa is the reluctance by TV stations to release unused spectrum. It will take intense lobbying and the demonstration of the value of the technology for more TV operators to contribute to these initiatives by releasing spectrum. Better yet, TV spectrum owners should be invited to partner in these initiatives.


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