Google unveils TV white space test bed in South Africa

In an effort to prove the value of TV white-space spectrum (TVWS) and also highlight its spectrum database capabilities, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) joined with a number of companies and groups to launch a network trial with 10 South African schools, which will receive wireless Internet connectivity via TVWS.

Google - TV White Space

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The schools, all in the Cape Town area, will receive service from three base stations located at Stellenbosch University's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences in Tygerberg, Cape Town. Each school will receive dedicated 2.5 Mbps service with failover to ADSL in order to prevent downtime during school hours. The trial is scheduled to last six months.

"During the trial, we will attempt to show that broadband can be offered over white spaces without interfering with licensed spectrum holders. To prevent interference with other channels, the network uses Google's spectrum database to determine white space availability. To confirm results, the CSIR Meraka Institute will take spectrum measurements and frequently report back to ICASA and the local broadcasters," said Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda, public policy manager, Google South Africa, in a blog post.

Other participants in the trial include Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa (TENET), e-Schools Network, the Wireless Access Providers' Association and Comsol Wireless Solutions. Carlson Wireless' RuralConnect Broadband Solution, enabled by Horizon software from Neul, provides the communications backbone for the trial.

There are no plans to expand the trial to more schools or lengthen the time of the trial. "For now, this is a small trial with a limited scope," said TENET.

Google has been dabbling in TVWS, which encompasses unused channels in the broadcast TV spectrum, for more than two years. The Internet giant joined with Spectrum Bridge on the first U.S. white-space spectrum trial during September 2010 in Logan, Ohio.

Mgwili-Sibanda said Google hopes results of the South African trial will drive regulatory developments across Africa akin to what has happened in the United States, where white space spectrum is available for licensed exempt use, and in the United Kingdom, where regulator Ofcom is working on a model regulatory framework based on a license-exempt or "managed access" use of TVWS.

According to Luke Mckend, Google South Africa country manager, Google is looking forward "to opening discussions with policy makers around a regulatory framework that will support the wider use of TVWS to deliver wireless broadband Internet across the country."

Countries in Asia and Europe are also looking at TVWS possibilities. For example, Finland and France have both authorized field tests of TVWS equipment using cognitive radios.

TVWS proponents say because the spectrum's relatively low frequencies enable widespread coverage. TVWS is particularly suited to delivering low-cost connectivity to rural and remote communities. Some contend TVWS can also be used to extend wireless broadband in densely populated urban areas, but that appears to be a less likely scenario in developed markets, where the TV spectrum is occupied by multiple broadcast channels. Ironically, there are few TV white space channels available in urban areas, where demand for high-speed wireless broadband services is the highest.

Google is not the only company creating a white-space test bed in Africa. In February, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), in collaboration with the Government of Kenya's Ministry of Information and Communications and Indigo Telecom Ltd., announced the launch of a pilot project delivering low-cost wireless broadband access to previously unserved locations near Nanyuki and Kalema, Kenya.

For more:
- see this Google blog entry
- see this release and this release
- see this CNET article
- see this Engadget article
- see this Minyanville article
- see this GigaOM article

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