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Microsoft 4Afrika supports unlicensed access to TV white space

Read time 4min 10sec
Amrote Abdella, regional director at Microsoft 4Afrika.
Amrote Abdella, regional director at Microsoft 4Afrika.

Microsoft 4Afrika says it supports unlicensed access to TV white space (TVWS) channels and believes an unlicensed regime is the most practical and efficient way to open access.

In an interview with ITWeb, Amrote Abdella, regional director at Microsoft 4Afrika, says licence-exempt or lightly-licensed access to vacant UHF band TV channels (TVWS) can enable rapid deployment of low-cost, long-range connectivity.

4Afrika is a Microsoft initiative focused on improving digital access and supporting innovation in Africa. Launched in 2013, the initiative’s focus has been on delivering affordable access to the Internet, developing skilled workforces and investing in local technology solutions.

According to Abdella, TVWS by definition are licensed broadcast spectrum resources that are unused or under-utilised by the broadcast incumbents and “as long as the broadcast incumbents remain as primary licensees of the band, the unused TVWS channels cannot be licensed to another user.

“However, it can be open for shared usage, under an unlicensed (or licence-exempt) approach by secondary users while fully protecting the broadcast incumbents through a spectrum database approach.”

Connecting everybody

Microsoft 4Afrika’s position comes on the back of calls for increased utilisation of TVWS as it provides an opportunity to connect the world's population that remains without Internet access.

The International Telecommunication Union says despite Internet use continuing to grow globally, over three billion people are still not connected.

TVWS technology is regarded as one of the first steps towards connecting Africa's unconnected citizens.

In SA, commercial deployment of the technology has lagged even after the Independent Communications Authority of SA published the final regulations on the use of TVWS in 2018.

However, in April, the regulator surprised the industry by temporarily awarding three companies licences to provide TVWS-based networks, in light of COVID-19 and the national state of disaster.

Mthinte Communications, Levin Global and Morai Solutions were authorised to use TVWS in the 470MHz to 694MHz band.

Pressure is mounting on government to place TVWS technology on the list of priorities and programmes that can help the economy recover from the effects of COVID-19.

Accordingly, Abdella says TVWS technology is the most effective to bring broadband and Internet-connected solutions.

She tells ITWeb that lack of broadband is a central issue, as many countries are below the 20% critical mass necessary to achieve improved efficiencies and enhanced information flows for economic growth and innovation.

“Consumer demand for wireless connectivity is surging and spectrum is a finite source. It is critical to intensively share under-used spectrum bands. Licence-exempt or lightly-licensed access to vacant UHF band TV channels can enable rapid deployment of low-cost, long-range connectivity in under-served peri-urban, rural and remote areas.”

She adds TVWS can provide direct connectivity to end-user devices or provide a backhaul link for WiFi hotspots, supporting rural clinics, telemedicine and remote learning.

According to Abdella, Microsoft has been championing the use of TVWS to bring broadband and Internet-connected solutions to remote and under-served communities at an affordable cost, since 2013.

“The sustainable nature of this type of spectrum use makes it very cost-efficient to implement, which is extremely beneficial for rural, under-served and developing areas. With TVWS, people are now able to access the Internet for less than 5% of the average household income.

Let’s share

“Microsoft firmly believes spectrum-sharing and dynamic spectrum access are among the most effective solutions to alleviate spectrum crunch. In fact, the perceived spectrum crunch is a natural result of the exclusive licensing regime that is the predominant spectrum utilisation model currently.

“Spectrum-sharing and dynamic spectrum access (DSA) make the same piece of spectrum resource infinitely reusable and shared among multiple users, and can ultimately make spectrum abundant, rather than being scarce. TV white space is one example of dynamic spectrum-sharing implementation in the UHF and VHF TV band.”

Moreover, Abdella says TVWS technology can become an alternative to any other spectral bands in use.

“The spectrum-sharing and dynamic spectrum access principles and models can be, and should be, applied across all spectrum bands, in low, mid and high frequency bands alike. TVWS is a primarily example of DSA in the sub-1GHz band.

“Citizen Broadband Radio Services in 3.5GHz band in the United States is good example of DSA in the mid-band. Most recently, the Federal Communication Commission has opened up an entire 1.2GHz worth of spectrum in the 6GHz band for expanded unlicensed WiFi access (aka WiFi 6E) which is also based on the same spectrum-sharing and dynamic access model, enabled by Automatic Frequency Coordination, a spectrum database technology.”

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