Picture: THE TIMES
Picture: THE TIMES

The uptake of and access to affordable broadband services could soon be boosted after the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) published draft regulations on TV white spaces (TVWS), unused broadcasting frequencies.

TVWS are unused channels in the TV broadcast spectrum. It could potentially improve internet connectivity in which it is most needed, especially in areas where telecommunications infrastructure is lacking.

Demand for wireless broadband capacity is outstripping the availability of new spectrum for supporting wireless infrastructure deployment. In 2015, companies such as Microsoft and Google, in partnership with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, tested TVWS in some underserved areas in SA.

Experts say the advantage of TVWS is that low-frequency signals can travel further, making the technology well-suited to provide low-cost connectivity to rural communities with poor telecommunications infrastructure. The technology is also used for expanding coverage of wireless broadband in densely populated urban areas.

Dynamic Spectrum Alliance (DSA) president Kalpak Gude said TVWS projects had been deployed in more than 25 countries. These have focused on rural connectivity, connecting schools, medical facilities and community-focused projects.

"Every one of these has brought broadband connectivity to places that did not have such services before and the feedback has been absolutely positive," Gude said.

TVWS rules are in place in countries such as the US, UK, Singapore, South Korea and Canada. In many other countries, draft rules had been proposed or efforts were under way to draw up draft rules, he said.

"All of this is critical to build a large enough ecosystem that will drive investment and ultimately lower the costs of deployment further. That is happening now. We are confident we will see larger-scale deployments coming soon."

The DSA, a global organisation campaigning for laws and regulations that will lead to more efficient and effective spectrum utilisation, will host its annual global summit on TVWS in Cape Town on Tuesday.

TVWS frequencies are in the 470MHz-694MHz ultra-high frequency TV band.

It is similar to Wi-Fi technology in that it is typically operated on an unlicensed or lightly licensed basis.

Icasa CEO Pakamile Kayalethu Pongwana said exclusive licences for specific frequency bands and specific purposes dominated spectrum allocation policy and regulations in the past. "While these models are good for monetising the spectrum and for co-ordination between multiple services and operators to avoid interference, they often result in underutilisation of spectrum.

"In the last decade however, governments and regulators around the world have embraced the concept of ‘spectrum commons’ as another way to bring citizens innovation on new wireless technologies," he said. The migration to digital TV from analogue will also free up more spectrum to be used for high-speed wireless technologies," Pongwana said.

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