Microsoft recently said it intended to trial white space technology in Kenya, and now Google is also experimenting with the wireless broadband system in Africa, this time in Cape Town, South Africa.
White spaces are the gaps in between broadcast TV channels in the radio spectrum. These gaps are left empty as buffers, in order to avoid the TV channels bleeding into each other, but they also have the capacity to carry wireless broadband. And, because the spectrum we’re talking about is quite low-frequency, it is very good at carrying that wireless broadband over great distances – hence the technology’s promise for mostly rural areas that lack good fixed-line broadband (Google has been trialling white space broadband in the rural U.S. since 2010).
The Cape Town trial, launched on Monday, is experimenting with white spaces as a way of bringing connectivity to schools. The base stations are being sited on the Tygerberg hill, which is next to several heavily-populated areas (I’m from Cape Town, as it happens), so the trial should provide a good idea of how white space broadband interferes – or hopefully doesn’t – with licensed spectrum holders in the vicinity.
Google’s involvement extends to sponsorship and the use of its newly-launched spectrum database, while others taking part include the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa (TENET) and of course the local telecoms regulator, ICASA. The equipment comes from Neul and Carlson Wireless.
The trial will last six months. According to TENET’s explanation, each of the 10 schools involved will get a “dedicated 2.5Mbps service with failover to ADSL” – hardly impressive speeds, but this is still an experiment after all.
According to Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda, Google’s public policy manager in South Africa, Google’s intention here is partly to drive regulatory change there. Like Wi-Fi spectrum, white space spectrum can be used license-free in the U.S. This may also happen in the UK, depending on what the regulator Ofcom decides. “We hope the results of the trial will drive similar regulatory developments in South Africa and other African countries,” Mgwili-Sibanda wrote in a blog post.