Spectrum for development - News
TV white spaces can open up low-cost high-speed internet across Africa: All we need is the regulatory go-ahead
“We have the skills, the entrepreneurs, a spectrum model we can replicate, the standards, the technology and clearly we have the demand” said South African Henk Kleynhans in the wake of a TV white spaces workshop in Johannesburg last week. “All we need is a regulatory go-ahead.”
Unused TV white spaces could be the way to get highspeed wireless internet to millions living outside major African cities. Manufacturers are gearing up for mass production of white space devices and now is the time to act. APC and partners are coordinating an important workshop for govt officials, regulators and professionals in October.
Dramatic events recently such as the internet shutdowns in Arab states and the WikiLeaks clampdown are pressing reminders that an open and fair internet cannot be taken for granted. In March APC brought together 100 researchers, innovators and activists to strategise.
Most communications policies around the globe have been developed on models based on the economic, political and social realities of North America and Europe – which assume large private companies build expansive national wired infrastructures. So laws and regulations have evolved with the understanding that these wired networks are the main communication infrastructure and that wireless networks connect through them. But wired networks do not exist in many developing countries and do not necessarily need to be built.
“Open spectrum is important because access is important” says Steve Song, telecommunications fellow at the Shuttleworth Foundation in an interview with APCNews. But in South Africa, the problem is not lack of access – it’s that access is not affordable. Freeing up wireless spectrum, such as television white spaces —the space between channels— or making more information available on spectrum that is currently not in use could help to make affordable access a reality. Song is the author of a new country survey report commissioned by APC in which he explores how spectrum is currently managed in South Africa, and the barriers that are blocking availability.
As one of the world’s fastest growing economies and with over 65% of its billion-plus population under 35, India has huge potential. But according to a new report by Shyam Ponappa, commissioned by APC the current model for managing spectrum in India could be a huge barrier to the country’s economic and social development. Instead, he suggests that “it would be much more conducive to a sound economy…to have two to three main operators as we do with the provision of utilities.
The spectrum both surrounds us and passes through us. Made up of waves of energy that allow us to communicate the way we do today – through radio, television, mobile phones, wireless internet and more — spectrum is an invisible common link that ties our societies together. A global shift in spectrum regulation is currently under way with regulatory reforms being developed and proposed in several countries. As the internet and wireless communication increasingly merge into a singular form of communication, we will be presented with unique opportunities to adapt to open, trusting and collaborative forms of regulation and technology use. This introduction to developing a policy on open spectrum by spectrum expert Evan Light for APC, breaks down what spectrum is, how it works and why governments with under-served communities stand to gain so much from opening up the spectrum to more users and uses.
Nigeria is arguably one of the leading countries in Africa with respect to spectrum deregulation and licensing. However while the country follows best practices on the telecommunications side, the process for allocating broadcasting licenses and frequencies lacks transparency and is still dependant on Presidential approval. As the two regulatory bodies prepare to merge to form a single entity, Nigeria to reconsider how it allocates broadcasting licenses, says Fola Odufuwa, ICT expert and author of a new APC report on spectrum management in Nigeria.
Currently, about 20 million Kenyans own mobile phones. Mobile phones receive their signals over electromagnetic waves that are also used for everything from home appliances like microwave ovens and remote controls, to the radio and internet. These waves are assigned different frequencies or spectrum so that they don’t interfere with each other. However Kenya is at risk of running out of spectrum because of an outdated spectrum allocation framework and a disaster in day-to-day communications and the security of countless services is waiting to happen. A new study by Muriuki Mureithi commissioned by the APC proposes a solution.
APC starts research into spectrum regulation in Brazil, India, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa
Every thirty months the amount of information that can be transmitted over a wireless internet connection has the potential to double. Wireless could be the way to provide affordable broadband to millions of people currently living with poor connectivity. However the policy and regulation related to spectrum is often inefficient, secretive and ill-informed. APC’s new research will examine how spectrum is assigned, who assigns it and what policy or regulatory framework they use.