A few weeks ago, we carried a story on how Microsoft intends to use TV White Space in Africa and India to provide internet connectivity to the most remote areas. In areas where installing even a cellphone tower is impossible, TV White Space technology will help people connect to the Internet using fixed devices at their homes or schools. The article explains what is TV White Space and mentions some interesting points that you need to know about the upcoming TV White Space revolution. This is also being termed as a Digital Disruption that can affect major Internet Service Providers, increasing competition and in the process, lowering the average cost of Internet access.
What is TV White Space & Super WiFi
You know that TV channels use different range of frequencies to broadcast content to your televisions. They keep a gap between adjacent bandwidths so that content of one channel does not create interference with content of another channel. This gap is called buffer space. There is plenty of space left between two adjacent TV channels. And if you take into account, all the TV channels you have, it becomes a huge amount of unused space – although distributed parallel among different bandwidths.
The exact frequencies used for broadcasting by TV channels differ from country to country so I can’t provide an estimate of how much TV White Space is available. You can check it out at your location using already existing tools for the purpose.
Features of Super Wi-Fi or TV White Space
The TV White Space technology is also called Super WiFi as its reach is much more compared to normal WiFi. According to Carlson Technologies, while WiFi covers a few feet, Super WiFi can cover a range of 10 kilometers. This is almost 10 times the length that normal WiFi can go.
The major problems with normal WiFi are that they become weak with space traveled and cannot pass obstacles so they cannot be used in hilly terrains or forests. Super WiFi has no such problems. It can bend and bounce off obstacles to go ahead.
How does TV White Space work
Carlson Technologies has created a two-minute video to show how its “Rural Connect” program works. Microsoft and other companies may be using some other technique. If interested, click on the below video to check out Carlson’s answer to how does TV White Space work.
Determining TV White Space available in your area and buying it
Google’s Spectrum Database helps you determine the free white space available in your region. Another tool, from Spectrum Bridge, is Show My Whitespaces. You can use this too for checking out TV white space available for purchasing or use.
Besides these two automated tools, you can also contact Carlson Technologies that is helping with the TV White space revolution. If you are interested in providing Internet service or cable service using the TV White Space, you can buy part of the unused spectrum via these people.
Microsoft leads TV White Space usage as of now
Microsoft, along with some partners, has tested the technology many times in the US and now intends to provide low-cost Internet to developing countries. Though its main focus is Africa, it is also setting up infrastructure in India after the PM pushed for the Digital India program. On the same lines, Facebook and Google are also providing free Internet but they are not related to Super WiFi.
Microsoft intends to book different unused spectrums and set up base stations that would connect even the remotest areas in Africa. The continent has the lowest percentage of Internet users though TV and cellphones are everywhere. People use GPRS to connect to the Internet but that option is costly. And in many areas, the cellphone signals cannot reach owing to the terrain. With a view to connect such areas and to provide affordable Internet to Africans, Microsoft is teaming up with different companies. They are establishing ground stations wherever possible so that there is uninterrupted Internet.
Infrastructure required to use TV White Space for Internet
I would like to emphasise again that one ground station can cover the 10KM area (imagine a circle with 10km radius) so Microsoft will have to use some technology to keep the Super Wi-Fi going – at every 10 km. It could be something like towers.
There are no portable Super WiFi devices available at the time of writing this article, so both the Internet provider and users will have to use an external device to make use of the TV White Space Internet.
As of now, no computer has built-in hardware to use TV White Space Internet directly. It comes as a fixed device that connects to the router and from there, to the computer(s) to provide Internet access.
Microsoft has not made it clear about the costs and how it intends to reach remotest of Africa or India using the technology but it says that by the end of 2016, Super Wi-Fi will gain much momentum and answers about costs to companies, cost to users, user-devices, and repeaters/towers, etc. will be clearer.
Since TV White Space is about the Internet, it is also applicable to Internet of Things. Devices can communicate with each other using the Super WiFi frequencies.