We often hear about the need for building critical ICT infrastructure within cities. However, in order for the infrastructure to play its part, the availability and accessibility to connectivity is an equally important aspect of the equation.
Michael Thatcher, Chief Technology Officer for Public Sector, Microsoft Asia, explained that ensuring access to low-cost or free broadband is critical for cities to be able to move forward. He believes that it is not just about asking whether the connectivity is available but also questioning whether the accessibility is affordable.
In Asia, a vast number of people – 71% of the population – still find broadband to be too expensive and this creates a roadblock for developing truly connected cities. Many of us today rely on WiFi, an unlicensed spectrum that has been made available to the masses and has radically changed how all of us access broadband today. However, WiFi only accounts for a very small percentage of the existing spectrum. In more developed countries, WiFi is also used to offload the transportation of data. According to Michael, we are heading towards having 97% of the world’s machine-to-machine communication and mobile data being offloaded on to other forms of connectivity.
Dynamic spectrum access or TV white spaces are the low frequency bands of the spectrum which provide a type of WiFi which is sometimes called Super-WiFi. It has several interesting characteristics and is being deployed commercially in different parts of the world.
TV white spaces are gaps left between broadcast channels. They are low frequency bands within the broadcast spectrum that are not used in many places today. TV white spaces can travel farther and penetrate more obstacles, eliminating the need for multiple routers in homes or offices.
White spaces give you the ability to connect an entire school and the neighboring homes around it. Governments and industries have been working on this phenomenon for the past 12 years and regulatory pilots have taken place in multiple countries. In the United States, there are already published regulations that look to make the entire spectrum available for the use of TV white spaces. In June 2014, the Singapore Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) announced its regulatory framework for unlicensed access to TV white space spectrum. The regulation will make available for use approximately 180MHz of spectrum when it takes effect from November 2014.
Similar regulations are said to soon follow suit from Canada and the United Kingdom.
Michael said that in Singapore, the government is looking at the ‘Internet of Things’, or machine-to-machine communication. This requires more and more sensors to upload and download information which will result in data needing to be transported using alternative options. However, it is important to remember that TV white spaces are not an alternative to traditional LTE deployments. It should serve as a complement as its implementation costs are exponentially higher.
Microsoft has been working on TV white spaces pilots in different parts of the world. Countries in Asia like the Philippines and Singapore have already piloted TV white spaces and there are ongoing discussions for further pilots in Indonesia and Malaysia.
The benefits of using TV white spaces can be manifold, especially in times when a quick and affordable network needs to be set-up in a disaster-response scenario. However, adoption of white spaces has been slow as there is no harmonization between regulatory bodies to make the spectrum accessible for industries to work with. In order to move forward, governments and regulatory authorities must come together to work out how solutions can open up white spaces to more users in the long run.