The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa is one of the leading scientific and technology research, development and implementation organisations in Africa. It undertakes directed research and development for socio-economic growth.

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November 2012

Enabling technologies: Information and communications technology

CSIR taking the lead in trailing future wireless communication technology based on TV white space

With broadband having been identified as a key social and economic driver, initiatives to expand broadband access in rural areas have been in the spotlight recently. A new method for enabling such access is called TV white space technology. This refers to the use of unused spectrum in the TV spectrum bands. The CSIR Meraka Institute has been allocated a test licence by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) for the first TV white space technology trial in South Africa in January 2013, in partnership with Google, TENET, WAPA and eSchools.

During the first trial, 10 schools in the Cape Town area will be connected to one base station at Tygerberg Hospital from January to June 2013. A second project for TV white space trials is planned in Limpopo near the University of Limpopo’s Mankweng/Turfloop Campus from April next year.

“What we refer to as TV white spaces are unused spectrum in the TV spectrum bands between 470 MHz and 790 MHz in Region 1 of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) at a specific geographical location. TV white space technology is promoted as a mechanism to achieve rural broadband using automated, but managed spectrum allocation for secondary, low power communication in the TV bands. This provides for better propagation characteristics than in the GHz frequency bands,” explains Dr Ntsibane Ntlatlapa, manager: networks and media at the CSIR.

The white spaces could be used for alternative wireless communication services at that location. The number and exact frequency of unused spectrum vary from location to location and could also vary with time.

“With current technologies, operators tend to concentrate only on the urban or commercial areas, while innovation is really needed in the rural areas that will always be left behind if efforts are not made to improve their infrastructure, as well as to provide them with opportunities to keep abreast of developments,” says Ntlatlapa. Larger numbers of unoccupied TV spectrums are available in low population density such as in rural areas. This makes this spectrum of particular interest for operations in rural areas where the population is normally unserved or underserved with broadband access.

TV white space (spectrum) devices deliver improved wi-fi-like systems for broadband and are based on a combination of spectrum sensing, geolocation and beacon techniques for interference avoidance. These frequency bands are attractive to potential broadband users for the following reasons:

  • The large number of spectrums available that can be used to provide connectivity;
  • Propagation qualities that provide for non-line of sight performance and in-building penetration; and
  • Larger coverage areas due to the long-range propagation of signals at these frequencies.

The CSIR will coordinate the trials; conduct research and evaluate the technical parameters and performance of the technology in the South African context; create and stimulate opportunities for South African industry in related fields; develop technology in collaboration with the CSIR and industry; and build the spatio-temporal spectrum database.

“We are confident that these trials will influence regulation and further broadband reach to benefit the country and its communities,” concludes Ntlatlapa.

Dr Ntsibane Ntlatlapa


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