Developing countries utilise cost-effective option to bridge access gap

By Flavia Fascendini
Publisher: APCNews     PERGAMINO, 25 May 2012

On May 17th, during the WSIS Forum 2012 in Geneva, the Association for Progressive Communications offered a workshop on television white spaces, taking the opportunity to explore how this kind of spectrum can transform the connectivity landscape towards the goal of creating affordable access for all.

This workshop was 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 “Spectrum for development,” held in Kenya at the 2011 Internet Governance Forum, and a TV white spaces workshop, held later in Johannesburg, have been important opportunities for different actors to learn about the opportunities that TVWS spectrum presents for affordable internet access.

The workshop convened with the coordination of Anriette Esterhuysen, executive director of the Association for Progressive Communications, and the participation of Ermanno Pietrosemoli, president of the Fundación Escuela Latinoamericana de Redes (EsLaRed) from Venezuela, Russel Southwood, CEO of Balancing Act from the United Kingdom, and Alice Munyua, chair of the Kenya Internet Steering Committee.

APCNews interviewed the panelists Ermanno Pietrosemoli and Russel Southwood about some of the issues covered during the workshop.

APCNews: What would you consider the main outputs of the workshop?

Ermanno Pietrosemoli: A main output is the exposure in a relevant international forum of the need for a new spectrum management paradigm in order to face the challenge posed by the many applications that have arisen in recent years.

Russell Southwood: I think those that attended the workshop got a much clearer sense of the opportunities TV White Spaces offer in emerging markets and began to understand that there are practical things that they could do to make implementations (particularly pilot projects) happen.

APCNews: Why do you consider these kinds of spaces such as the TVWS workshop important?

EP: In the audience we had a former ITU regulatory official from the Russian federation, an entrepreneur from Democratic Republic of Congo, a broadcasting regulator from Brunei, university professors and several others that represent a cross section of the stakeholders in the spectrum issue. It was a good venue for sensitising them to the importance of dealing with white spaces from a broader perspective, not merely commercial interests.

RS: Regulators, NGOs and operators lead busy lives and it is sometimes difficult to get a handle on new issues like TV white spaces. These kinds of workshops enable people to get a handle on both the practical and policy implications.

APCNews: How can providing widespread WiFi access help overcome obstacles to local access?

RS: In some countries (for example, South Africa), there is a plentiful national fibre backbone infrastructure but far more limited local access delivery. TV white spaces along with WiFi offers a very cost-effective option to bridge that gap.

APCNews: Can you mention the ways in which conflicts between broadcasters and telcos (telecommunications companies) could influence the discussions around TV white spaces?

RS: Broadcasters rarely switch the spectrum they use but telcos more frequently do so. As a result, even without the analog to digital transition in broadcasting, there exists differences in attitudes towards spectrum. The telcos have assumed that the “digital divide” is theirs to use for mobile broadband (for things like LTE) whereas the broadcasters assume they should retain what they see as their broadcast spectrum. Specifically on TV white spaces, the broadcasters have legitimate concerns as there are issues that might affect their broadcasts if things are poorly implemented. Most broadcasters I have spoken to are not against the idea but want to be assured on the detail of the technical implementation.

APCNews: How can activists effectively monitor the real spectrum usage in TV bands over time?

EP: Recently, an inexpensive tool called the RF Explorer became available. This device can be used out-of-the-box to monitor the TV spectrum in real time and it can also connect to a computer through a USB port to log the spectrum usage over time, thus providing a powerful tool to demonstrate the inefficiency in the current use of spectrum.

APCNews: Do you recognise similar challenges within different regions when it comes to policies and regulations on spectrum and TVWS?

RS: There are similar challenges between regions in terms of there being something of an information deficit on the topic, but each country must approach implementing TV white spaces differently as spectrum allocations differ widely between countries.

APCNews: Have you seen any advances in the last few years when it comes to TVWS regulation?

EP: There have been advances, notably the Federal Communications Commission position in USA, but other countries are dragging their feet. There is a good opportunity for developing countries to leapfrog in this respect, taking advantage of the greater availability of unused spectrum in rural areas, which on the other hand are the places in which alternative wireless data communications means are most needed, since they are not attractive to traditional telecom service providers using licensed bands.

RS: In the context of Africa, the South African regulator has given the go-ahead for a pilot implementation.

Image by weexinsitu Some rights reserved.


“Watch the video of the workshop”

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 .