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WSIS Forum 2012: TV White Spaces on the agenda

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By Flavia Fascendini for APCNews

PERGAMINO, Argentina, 04 May 2012

How can Television White Spaces spectrum transform the connectivity landscape in order to create affordable access for all? From 14-18 May Geneva will be hosting the WSIS Forum 2012, where the Association for Progressive Communications has organised two thematic workshops on May 17th, one of them under the subject Television White Spaces.

This workshop is part of a number of activities that APC has developed through the years in order to provide an understanding of spectrum regulation through research and knowledge exchange of the situation in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Previous workshops such as the spectrum for development workshop held in Kenya at the 2011 Internet Governance Forum and the TV white spaces workshop held later in Johannesburg were important opportunities for different actors to learn about the opportunities that TVWS spectrum represents for internet access.

The 2012 TV White Spaces workshop will provide the WSIS community, including government officials, communication regulators, community network operators and industry professionals, an opportunity to explore how Television White Spaces (TVWS) spectrum can transform the connectivity landscape and achieve the goal of creating affordable access for all.

The panelists of the workshops will be Anriette Esterhuysen, Executive Director of the Association for Progressive Communications, South Africa; Alice Munyua, Chair of the Kenya Internet Steering Commitee, Kenya; Ermanno Pietrosemoli, President of the Fundación Escuela Latinoamericana de Redes from Venezuela; and Russel Southwood, CEO of Balancing Act from United Kingdom.

An advance on some of the panelists’ expositions

Ermanno Pietrosemoli, President of the Fundación Escuela Latinoamericana de Redes from Venezuela and one of the panelists of the upcoming workshop, states that “spectrum allocation has always been associated with the actual technology used to carry on the communication, and as the technology has evolved, so has the meaning of spectrum.”

“It is a fact that the real use of the spectrum in a given time is just a small fraction of what has been allocated, and we promote the use of a very inexpensive system that can be used to effectively monitor the real spectrum usage in the TV bands over time, so that activists can have hard data to argue for a more efficient use of the spectrum”, he adds.

Pietrosemoli highlights that state-of-the-art technology offers the capability of implementing dynamic spectrum access in which the radio can sense the environment, determine which frequencies are not being used in a particular time and use them opportunistically. “The enormous success of WiFi is an example of the concept of sharing the spectrum in an opportunistic way that should be extended to other frequencies band”, he proposes.

Russel Southwood, CEO of Balancing Act from United Kingdom and another panelist at the workshop, plans to describe some of the conflicts between broadcasters and telcos that might influence the discussions of Television White Spaces. He will also talk about how providing widespread WiFi access can help to overcome blockages at the local access level.

Southwood explains the reasons why Africa needs to be interested in White Spaces, “although in Africa people tend to talk the global rhetoric of ‘spectrum as a scarce resource’, the reality is that there are only half a dozen countries where spectrum shortage is an issue.” Southwood’s explanation is based on a study done by the end of 2011. Another item on his contribution to the panel will relate to addressing the current dead-end in universal service as an issue that the continent needs to tackle.

Some background on the subject of this workshop

When wireless spectrum was first allocated, broadcast and reception technologies were crude by today’s standards and regulators decided that “gaps” should be left in spectrum assignments so as to prevent television signals from interfering with each other. These “guard” bands are also known as television white spaces (TVWS) because of the “white” noise signal that appears on a television in these unused bands. But wireless technology has evolved to the point where it can operate efficiently within these bands and without interfering with television broadcast.

The use of other TV spectrum frequencies could also be optimised. In some countries, not all spectrum assigned to TV broadcasting is currently being used. Right now, manufacturers are gearing up for mass production of wireless communication devices that operate dynamically in unused or underused TV frequencies (generically called “TVWS spectrum”). If appropriate spectrum regulation is put in place, we can seize the day as these devices become available.

A new opportunity also opens up with spectrum reclaimed as a consequence of the transition to digital terrestrial TV, which is more spectrum-efficient. But, in this context, there is also a danger that incumbent licence holders, as well as new mobile operators, will seek to lock down all TV frequencies within traditional private-property licences. While there is a place for this kind of licence, a balanced approach is needed. Too much is at stake to not open up more unlicenced spectrum.

TVWS spectrum can enable a new generation of wireless entrepreneurs and innovators, in particular in developing countries.

Its possibilities include:

1. More competition. TVWS technology is designed for unlicenced (but not unregulated) use, and can be deployed in a very similar manner to other unlicenced wireless technologies such as WiFi. This means lower barriers to market entry, more competition, and ultimately more service and better prices for consumers.

2. More innovation. When the 2.4GHz band was designated for unlicenced use, nobody predicted the wealth of new devices that would emerge from microwave ovens to baby monitors to the nearly ubiquitous WiFi. Creating another range of unlicenced spectrum will attract entrepreneurs and innovators to create new services that we haven’t dreamt of yet.

3. Less administrative overhead. Re-allocating spectrum involves moving existing spectrum holders from one band to another. This process is notoriously painful and lasts a long time. TVWS spectrum can re-use unused television broadcast spectrum without moving or interfering with any existing spectrum holders.

4. More performance. Television spectrum is capable of penetrating obstacles such as trees and buildings much more easily than WiFi or WiMax spectrum. Therefore, it will be much easier and more affordable to deploy this technology.

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The workshop will be webcasted here on Thursday May 17 at 11:00-12:45 (UTC +01:00)

More information about the Open spectrum for development project:

More information about the WSIS Forum 2012:

More information about digital migration in Africa:

Video: Welcome to the White Space, by Wireless Innovation Alliance .

(END/2012)

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