CSIR, TIA in television white space collaboration

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 11 May 2020
The CSIR’s spectrum sensing device used as part of the geo-location spectrum database.
The CSIR’s spectrum sensing device used as part of the geo-location spectrum database.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has partnered with the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) to enable local Internet service providers to deploy television white space (TVWS) networks, through the use of the Secondary Geo-Location Spectrum Database (S-GLSD) platform.

The S-GLSD is spectrum management tool developed by the CSIR to efficiently allocate the amount of usable spectrum, and enables Internet service providers to deploy TVWS broadband networks rapidly on a geo-location basis, to underserved communities.

The platform performs baseline prediction calculations for the country-wide TVWS availability.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has allowed several SMMEs to deploy the TVWS networks for broadband Internet services, in order to mitigate potential data service congestion by the mobile network operators.

This comes after ICASA last month assigned temporary emergency spectrum, announcing Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, Liquid Telecom and Rain among the recipients.

In the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there is an increased focus on the socio-economic benefits of broadband, including providing channels to distribute education services and enabling e-governance services, during a period when almost a third of the world is under different levels of lockdown.

The S-GLSD will be freely available to local SMMEs and will help them identify and make use of TVWS channels for broadband services, without generating interference with adjacent primary licensed spectrum services, according to the CSIR.

“TIA has played a vital role in funding the development of the now crucial GLSD technology, enabling South Africa to effectively innovate, develop and deploy TVWS technologies. Universal access to communication services is a human right,” says TIA head of ICT Rudzani Mulaudzi.

“Therefore, these kinds of technologies are crucial to ensure no one is left behind, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. Morai Solutions, a TIA-funded technology [firm], was also selected by ICASA to deploy TVWS networks in rural communities in South Africa.”

Television white spaces use idle broadcast spectrum on a secondary basis to bring broadband connectivity to areas where other technologies are not cost-effective.

According to research firm Statistia, as of April, the global Internet penetration rate was 59%, encompassing 4.57 billion active Internet users.

African nations have over the years been criticised by advocates of TVWS frequencies for under-utilising the technology that can improve Internet access on the continent.

ICASA has requested the CSIR to also make its S-GLSD platform available free of charge to operators licensed to use TVWS.

“In line with ICASA’s request, the CSIR has invited interested TVWS network operators approved by ICASA to use its S-GLSD services free of charge. This is in an effort to improve the national broadband Internet capacity and provide relevant and up-to-date information to the public in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” notes Dr Ntsibane Ntlatlapa, CSIR impact area manager.

In SA, where almost 50% (31 million) of the population is connected to the Internet, private and government research institutions have led successful TV white spaces trials.

In a step to evaluate the viability of TVWS in SA, the US Trade and Development Agency last year ran several pilot projects that utilise TV white space technologies in rural and semi-rural parts of SA.

“It is expected that this intervention by the CSIR and TIA will support the provision of life-saving information and enable online learning for populations in previously disadvantaged and rural communities during the COVID-19 pandemic,” states Dr Fisseha Mekuria, CSIR chief researcher.