TV white space pilot targets connectivity gaps at U.S. university

TV white space (TVWS) and education are increasingly being found hand in hand, with the latest announcement coming from West Virginia University, which laid claim to the title of first U.S. university to use vacant broadcast TV channels for wireless broadband services.

WVU's TVWS test network is providing last-mile connectivity to delivery free, public Internet access at Wi-Fi hotspots for students and faculty at WVU's Public Rapid Transit (PRT) platforms, a 73-car tram system that transports more than 15,000 riders daily. Future applications will include public Wi-Fi access on the PRTcars and machine-to-machine wireless data links supporting control functions of the PRTSystem, said the university, which is based in Morgantown, W.Va.

The university partnered with AIR.U (the AIR stands for Advanced Internet Regions), which was conceived by a group of higher-education associations, public interest groups and high-tech companies, including Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), to put TVWS spectrum to use. The AIR.U consortium, which is affiliated with the Open Technology Institute at the non-partisan think tank New America Foundation, now includes organizations representing more than 500 colleges and universities.

The WVU network deployment is being managed by AIR.U co-founder Declaration Networks Group and represents a collaboration between AIR.U and the WVU Board of Governors; the West Virginia Network for Telecomputing, which provides the fiber-optic Internet backhaul for the network; and California-based equipment vendor Adaptrum.

Politicians and regulators were quick to give the TVWS test effort kudos.

"The lessons learned from this pilot project will be important as Congress continues to look for ways to expand broadband access and advance smart spectrum policy," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-Va.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.  

Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said innovative use of TVWS "presents an exciting opportunity for underserved rural and low-income urban communities across the country."

The WVU pilot program "will not only demonstrate how TV white space technologies can help bridge the digital divide, but it also could offer valuable insights into how best to structure future deployments," she added.

AIR.U intends to facilitate additional college community and rural broadband deployments in the future. Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation, predicts that "hundreds of rural and small town colleges and surrounding communities" will soon employ TVWS spectrum to extend fast and affordable broadband connections to underserved areas.

Several TVWS pilots across the world have focus on using vacant TV spectrum to deliver broadband service to educational institutions. For example, the Microsoft 4Afrika this year rolled out a pilot project to provide broadband access via TVWS to university students and faculty in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, while Google launched a network trial with 10 South African schools, which will receive Internet connectivity via TVWS.

In addition, earlier this month the Gigabit Libraries Network began soliciting interest from U.S. public libraries interested in leveraging TVWS spectrum to extend their reach to more locations.

For more:
- see this WVU release
- see this FCC release

Related articles:
TV white space touted for use by public libraries
Microsoft unveils TV white space pilot in Tanzania
Google unveils TV white space test bed in South Africa
TV white space key to AIR.U rural ambitions