White Spaces: Bridging the Digital Divide

By TMCnet Special Guest
Jim Carlson, CEO, president and chief engineer at Carlson Wireless Technologies
  |  July 29, 2013

In a world that runs on technology, it’s hard to believe that about one third of the global population is unable to access the Internet – Americans accounting for approximately six million of that number. These aren’t people who have chosen to fall off the grid, or the others who don’t know how to turn a computer on. These are regular folks who want Internet access, but happen to live in some of the most rugged, expansive, or under-developed areas across the planet.

Now, there is a viable solution to the problem of rural connectivity – TV White Spaces. For Americans, these analog frequencies have been left unused since the FCC (News - Alert) Digital Television Transition, which required TV stations to broadcast exclusively in digital starting in 2009. White Spaces technologies have powerful signals that can easily penetrate areas where it is nearly impossible to achieve line-of-sight, and are becoming increasingly available as many more countries have initiated, if not planned, a switch from analog to digital.

Recent trials both in the U.S. and abroad have begun to prove that TVWS is a practical solution to rural broadband. Northern California’s Gold Country is currently serving as a testbed for the first deployment of a TVWS broadband network, thanks to El Dorado County wireless Internet service provider Cal.net and RF design firm Carlson Wireless (News - Alert) Technologies. Under an FCC-granted Special Temporary Authority license, the project looks to validate the efficacy of TVWS products in real-world scenarios while qualifying their potential for the millions of other rural residents throughout the U.S.

Still in its first month of deployment, the TVWS network is providing noticeable benefits: smooth videoconferencing, superior remote-access capabilities, and data rates of up to 3mbps downstream – delivering access to telephony resources that were previously unattainable. Resident and local businesses now have the capacity to tap digital tools that are fundamental to both individual and economic growth.

TVWS broadband is also proving its worth internationally. A trial led by Google (News - Alert), Carlson Wireless, and six other partners is currently providing a TVWS network to schools in Cape Town, South Africa. The network utilizes multiple base stations in one location to deliver broadband Internet service to ten locations within a 10-kilometer radius. Much like the El Dorado deployment, the Cape Town initiative looks to support the efficacy of TVWS spectrum use.

To be successful, both trials have to show that quality Internet can be offered over White Spaces, and without interfering with TV broadcasts and licensed spectrum holders. To meet this requirement, TVWS radios have been equipped with built-in database technology that monitors and configures the use of vacant spectrum, making interference an unlikely event. The success of projects like these will ultimately decide the regulatory framework in support of wider TVWS Internet use, potentially revolutionizing the communications industry on a global scale.

The most significant impact of wider TVWS Internet use will be to rural residents, low-income settlements, and populations living in emergent nations. TVWS technology is particularly pertinent to the development of communities that lack access to basic infrastructure and services, which often includes standard telephony resources like copper phone lines and optical fiber cables. With the ability to reach these communities, TVWS will bridge the digital divide by opening the Internet – a hub of educational, economic, social, and political discourse – to the disconnected world. If you imagine one third of the global population now adding to the already high level of Internet engagement, it’s easy to see the revolutionary potential of TVWS.

As with any new technology, there are always roadblocks. The idea of collectively sharing a resource – in this case, spectrum for broadband connections – is foreign to the communications industry, which has evolved to become a monopoly of a few large companies looking out for their own individual and financial interest. The lack of public awareness only incites these incumbent spectrum holders to withhold their spectrum from secondary users, thwarting TVWS innovation. However, the key objective for trials such as the El Dorado and Cape Town deployments is to demonstrate the capabilities of White Spaces, encouraging communication regulators to introduce policies that motivate and reward TVWS development and spectrum sharing. With greater acceptance, TVWS will lead the way into a world in which every person has the ability to connect and interact online.


Jim Carlson (News - Alert) is CEO, president and chief engineer at Carlson Wireless Technologies (www.carlsonwireless.com).

Edited by Stefania Viscusi