The Dynamic Spectrum Alliance, a group backing more flexible, affordable, access to spectrum, just concluded its Global Summitin Accra. The group includes Internet Heavyweights such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft, who are keen to explore ways of extending broadband Internet to the 3 billion+ who currently lack the education, healthcare and economic benefits it can bring. Bridging this digital divide was a central theme of the Summit, building on discussion stimulated by the CEO of Facebook and others at the Mobile World Congress (MWC), back in March 2014. Whilst the challenge at MWC was to operators to make mobile broadband more affordable, the challenge at the DSA Summit was to regulators (and industry) to enable low cost coverage solutions (especially using TV white spaces) which in turn would allow connectivity costs to be lowered to the point of affordability even in rural areas. The figure of $2/month emerged as the target level, which would allow rural communities to bootstrap their economic development.
Former Ofcom Spectrum Chief Prof H Nwana, is the new Chief Executive of the DSA, who guided the event programme and discussion towards its successful conclusion. The programme was sufficiently engaging to keep a good attendance right through to the end, in spite of the somewhat higher frequencies (UV) available in abundance to those reclining on the nearby Labadi Beach.
An African poverb was introduced 'If you want to go further, then travel together'. This seemed an appropriate encouragement for regulators and industry who want to make DSA a reality in their country. Delegates heard about numerous and diverse partnerships around the world, which have delivered real benefits.
News from technology vendors on their plans for silicon, and hence more compact and affordable devices, was encouraging for regulators and operators who would like to see DSA-based networks able to operate commercially - standealone or with part subsidy. The fact that TV white spaces (TVWS) is now a commercial reality in the US and imminently in the UK, has encouraged vendors to invest in their product development - both in radios and database services.
The event in Accra was co-hosted by the Ghanaian regulator (NCA) and there were regulators as well as academic and industry representatives from a number of other African countries - as well as from Europea, America and Asia. The host regulator seemed proud to announce the latest TV white spaces pilot, in Ghana, backed by Microsoft, Facebook and SpectraWireless (an African company with a strong interest in extending Internet connectivity across this continent). Delegates at the summit enjoyed Wi-Fi service (called Djungle), whose backhaul used white space links which have just been installed.
Costs of backhaul are still a big issue for rural areas, but Don Means from Gigabit Libraries presented groundbreaking work by his organisation on using TVWS technology to distribute connectivity around public buildings such as libraries.This is helping libraries to reinvent themselves at the heart of local communities.
Representatives from the ITU and GSMA emphasised the need for interference protection to underpin mobile broadband investments and seemed not quite so keen on expanding licence exempt access.
Related to this topic was a discussion of whether DSA frameworks should offer white space channel reservations (sometimes referred to as a protected mode or safe harbour), to provide certainty to those (small or large operators) wishing to deploy wide area networks using this technology. Effectively, the US and UK (draft) regulatory frameworks already offer a protected mode, for professional PMSE applications (wireless microphones etc.).
There was a debate about whether exclusivity was the best way of 'guaranteeing' spectrum access, given the success of licence exempt Wi-Fi and increasing sophisticated use of MIMO etc to create separate channels and avoid the waste of capacity that can accompany exclusivity.
Many supported the use of DSA to enable an increase in licence-exempt allocation, especially below 1 GHz - with the clear importance of this spectrum region for filling gaps in broadband coverage - large and small. Against a backdrop of reductions in UHF capacity allocated to broadcasting, there were strong arguments for creating a licence exempt reserve - effectively a minimum capacity that would be available everywhere for Super Wi-Fi (using the new IEEE 802.11af standard, which binds TV white spaces into the future of Wi-Fi.
Larkhill was delighted to meet with representatives from African regulators, ISPs and academics. It seems clear to us that Africa's role in shaping spectrum policy is continuing its ascendancy. Although DSA may have seemed a somewhat dry and complex technical subject, this Summit has assisted the raising of awareness of its great potential to help bring Internet to the 70% of Africans who live outside urban centres - without displacing existing wireless services , including TV broadcasting.
It was encouraging to see a wide range of TVWS pilots/trials underway in different African countries. Microsoft and Google have helped local players to get the networks up and running in a number of cases. The Centre for White Space Communications (University of Strathclyde) has brought its unique rural connection expertise to bear in helping with many of these roll-outs, under the Project Mawingu (Cloud) umbrella.
The various pilots use diverse configurations, but the common factors include long link lengths, some non-line of sight requirements and generally abundant white space channels. It is easy to see why the TV white spaces technology is attracting so much attention in Africa.
At the end of July 2014, the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games will bring many of the interested African countries to a city which itself is playing host to a significant TV white space deployment (as part of Ofcom's UK TVWS pilot) and is the home of the Centre for White Space Communications. It should be a great opportunity to continue the discussions.
Watch these spaces....
Over the two days, delegates were