New wireless technologies allow internet and broadcasting to coexist on airwaves

DAKAR, Senegal, Jun 6 (APCNews)


ICT policy makers and experts from 35 countries heard here last week that TV broadcasting and broadband can share the same radio spectrum to help address Africa’s connectivity problems. The TV White Spaces & Dynamic Spectrum Africa Forum, which took place in Dakar, convened more than 100 people comprising ICT regulators, internet service providers, equipment manufacturers, academics and civil society organizations looking for innovative ways to improve internet access on the continent. The event was held by Google, Microsoft, the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), AFRINIC and the Internet Society Senegal Chapter.

New wireless communication systems have recently emerged, which can detect interference and switch frequencies to unused wavebands, making much more efficient use of available radio spectrum. Surveys were presented at the forum that indicate that large swathes of the lower frequency bands allocated to broadcasting in Africa are almost completely unused. These wavebands, known as TV white space, can reach long distances and provide a low cost solution for meeting needs for internet access for people living in remote and rural areas who are currently cut off from the digital revolution. Despite the growth of mobile services and broadband access in many parts of the continent, internet access continues to lag, and last mile access is one of the biggest challenges to increasing access in these regions.

Showcased at the forum were successful trials of the technology that have already taken place in South Africa and Kenya (as well as in the US and the UK), and the event heard that other demonstrations are also being planned in Nigeria, Malawi and probably Senegal. The forum also heard that civil society and academia has been at the forefront of raising awareness of these technologies, including in the US, where public interest groups formed an alliance to push the regulator (the FCC) to allow shared dynamic use of TV spectrum. The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) co-organised a successful TV White Space awareness-raising workshop in South Africa in 2011, which helped to encourage the trials in South Africa and Kenya.

“What really impressed me about the forum was the sense of common cause amongst the participants to make better use of radio spectrum, and the excitement generated by the unearthing of so much unused spectrum on the continent,” said Mike Jensen, APC’s internet access specialist. “This has overturned the commonly held view that all radio spectrum is a scarce resource. The forum also provided a venue for showcasing real examples in Africa where more innovative use of our spectrum resources can meet some of the immediate connectivity needs in Africa, especially for rural areas. Aside from using these technologies in the TV frequencies, the model can also be used in other wavebands to make more efficient use of all our spectrum resources – a public good that needs to be exploited to the full in order to meet the needs of marginalised members of our societies.”

The fact that both Google and Microsoft were the main supporters of the event and are collaborating in this area underscores the potential of dynamic spectrum to disrupt the markets of the incumbent fixed and mobile operators. Interestingly TV White Space equipment is all coming from small independent manufacturers, while the big manufacturers, whoare the main suppliers to the large operators, have so far ignored the technology.

In summary, the major conclusions that emerged from the forum were:

TV White Spaces are available and underutilized
Using its spectrum database, Google shared a visualization of available white space in Senegal. There is more than 90 MHz available in Dakar alone, and more across the country ­­spectrum that could be used for broadband.

Trials show the technology works in practice
Trials in the Kenya, Malawi, Singapore, South Africa, the UK, and the US have demonstrated that broadband can coexist with licensed spectrum holders and provide broadband service. For example, Google, the eSchools Network, TENET, and the Wireless Association Providers Association have led a TV White Spaces trial to provide broadband to 10 schools in Cape Town. CSIR shared initial results from the trial, which demonstrate that TV White Spaces radios can operate without interfering with TV broadcast. Similarly, in Kenya, a trial in a remote area of the country demonstrated a cost-effective and sustainable business model for internet access provision by small-scale local entrepreneurs.

TV White Spaces policy is underway
ICASA, the South African ICT regulator, plans to use the trial outcomes to evaluate possible rules for use of the TV White Spaces. Other regulators showing interest in TV White Spaces for broadband included Nigeria, Senegal and Malawi, where less than 9% of the population receives broadcast TV and many channels are left available.

Radios lower barriers to internet
Radio manufacturers shared how TV White Spaces radios can talk to a database, which tells the radio which channels are available in a given geography. White space equipment manufacturer Adaptrum shared results of the deployment in Kenya, while Carlson presented its successful deployment in South Africa. Database developers showed how the creation of common standards could help build an ecosystem of devices that works globally.

Two initiatives that APC is discussing with partners to build on the success of the event are a ‘Shared Spectrum Alliance’ for Africa, which aims to bring together public interest groups to build capacity in advocating for use of shared spectrum for internet access, and an Open Spectrum Data Initiative, to support ICT regulators in making their radio spectrum allocations publically available (on the web).


Media contact
Analía Lavin,, +1 347 986 7419

About the Association for Progressive Communications
The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is an international network and non-profit organisation founded in 1990 that wants everyone to have access to a free and open internet to improve lives and create a more just world.


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