Teaching made easy thanks to unused TV spectrum

2013-11-10 06:00

Unused broadcast spectrum has become trash which has turned treasure for 10 Cape Town schools.

Videos on lesson plans, Skype calls to other schools and more frequently, updated websites, were some of the benefits to the schools that took part in Google’s TV White Spaces Trial (TVWS).

“The success of the trial showed that unused spectrum can be harnessed to benefit the average South African and it can be done without interfering with primary spectrum owners,” says Arno Hart, project manager at the Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa (Tenet).

“This is just one example of a population which can see great impact from TVWS to deliver wireless broadband at lower relative costs.”

The trial has been running since March and has focused on areas where telecommunications infrastructure was underdeveloped.

TVWS is a technology that uses the unused channels in the broadcast television spectrum. The low-frequency signals can travel longer distances.

This makes the technology well suited to providing low-cost connectivity to rural communities and expands the coverage of wireless broadband in densely populated urban areas.

The project was a collaboration between Google, Tenet and the Wireless Access Providers’ Association (WAPA), among others.

Luke Mckend, director for Google South Africa, says: “We wanted to help make the potential of TV White Spaces a reality in South Africa. The trial aimed to demonstrate the co-existence of TV broadcast and TVWS as well as the promise of this technology to deliver high-speed broadband. Together with partners, we’re delighted that the trial has been a success.”

Among the chosen schools were Bellville High School, Parow High School and Elswood Secondary School. The schools had to have very low or no connectivity to qualify.

Microsoft announced earlier this year that it had started a pilot project in Kenya using TVWS and was eager to roll it out in other areas once it had figured how to monetise it.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa has said the regulator intended to use the trial outcomes for input into the TVWS regulatory process.

As the demand for mobile spectrum increases, the search for alternative ways of achieving maximum spectrum efficiency becomes extremely important for policymakers, regulators and the private sector, states a 2013 discussion paper of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

“ICTs (Information, Communication and Technology companies) will continue to face increasing demand in terms of spectrum access in congested areas as well as network expansion demands in developing regions needing to breach connectivity gaps,” the report said.

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