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Progress in White Spaces Technology

30 June, 2013
ICT Africa
June 30, 2013

As discussed in our article on White Spaces, the technology that unitises unused radio and television frequencies for Internet access is gaining a lot of traction in Africa.

Television stations usually operate on the same or adjacent frequency channels. To minimise electromagnetic interference (EMI) between radio or television stations operating on the same frequencies, stations are usually operated in different geographical locations. Due to sparse population distributions and other factors in many rural communities, some television channels are never utilised.

There has been a move, especially by Google, Microsoft and others to utilise these unused frequencies for Internet provision in rural communities throughout the world, including Africa.

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 communities throughout the world.

Google has been scoring a number of points in its move to gain acceptance in the use of White Spaces throughout the world.

The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) just recently approved Google's plan to run a database allowing unlicensed TV broadcast spectrum to be utilised for mobile broadband and shared among multiple users.

At least 10 other companies in the USA, including Microsoft, have been pushing for this technology.

In South Africa, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), is expected to use many results of Google White Space Internet trials to determine possible rules and regulations around the use of TV White Spaces for Internet provision.

White Spaces will likely usher a new error in rural broadband connectivity in Africa. But delays in full-fledged implementation could come from the standardisation process of the technology as standards organisations typically take several years to ratify any new standard.

Moreover, even after the ratification by International standards organisations, African telecommunication regulators could stall the technology for many years to come as they have done with other aspects of telecommunications, such as spectrum allocation.


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