Google Claims Success for South African White Space Trial

Carl Weinschenk
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Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2014

White space technology, the much-anticipated approach that harnesses the high-quality spectrum between television channels, is making methodical progress.

A milestone was reached last week when Google announced that a trial it conducted in South Africa was a success. New Statesmen was among the sites covering the end of the trial. The site says that the project, which began in March, featured the use of white space for 10 schools in Cape Town. One of the goals, the site says, was to insure that white space didn’t interfere with broadcast channels.

The Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa (TENET) offers a tremendous amount of information on its site about the trial, which concluded on September 25. Presumably, the intervening six weeks were used to prepare the report. The page offers an extensive FAQ and links to the full report—which runs 40 pages—recommendations, suggested technical rules and regulations and other information.

In a blog, Google noted that its partners were CSIR Meraka Institute, TENET, e-Schools Network, WAPA and Carlson Wireless and said no interference was detected. The project did what it was supposed to do, the company wrote:

After six months, the trial has been a success. The participating schools, which previously had slow or unreliable Internet connections, experienced high-speed broadband access for the first time. Teachers were able to use videos in their lesson plans, make Skype calls to other schools, update school websites, and send regular email updates to parents. Students could use educational videos for research. Because the service was better and faster, teachers and learners used the Web to enrich the classroom experience.

White space is making progress beyond South Africa. Carlson Wireless has been chosen to deploy white space in the upstate New York town of Thurman, which has a population of only 1,200. In response to emailed questions from IT Business Edge, the company suggested that the platform is gaining adherents domestically:

Over the past year TVWS has started to creep its way into the greater public consciousness as applications have popped up around the country. Over the last four months alone, we’ve shipped over 1,000 radios under experimental license. The RuralConnect white space broadband radio has shown domestically, and globally, how TVWS can help revitalize a community or grow a business.

It is interesting that the deployment pattern of white space contradicts much of the established patterns of telecommunications. Historically, new technologies thrive where the money is: urban centers. White space is the opposite, since fewer broadcast channels are available in rural areas, thus, more opportunity for white space exist. Indeed, that is a great marketing tool for the white space sector, since it can be positioned as a tool to bridge the digital divide.

Carlson notes the difference:

Domestically, we tend to hear most about TVWS in rural settings.  This is because it is the rural areas where we see an abundance of available frequencies, while in the major urban, metropolitan areas there tends to only be a perhaps one to three channels.  The Cape Town project proved that TVWS can provide a powerful, fixed non-line-of-site, broadband solution even within noisy urban zones, with little available frequency.  Even in a major city where only a few channels are available, the RuralConnect TVWS radio was able to deliver much needed broadband services to local schools, at a quality exceeding that offered by existing DSL service.

Work in the sector continues. For instance, in late October, Redline Communications said that its sub-700 MHz RDL-3000 wireless broadband system has been certified by the Federal Communications Commission in the United States and Industry Canada. The system is built upon the capable Universal Wireless Transport platform, the press release says.

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