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More than 15 African countries gather to explore the potential of TV White Spaces

To help bring more of Africa online, we often work with others: offering programs to get universities connected, supporting nonprofit innovators to increase engineering know-how, and partnering to test the use of TV White Spaces for broadband access in underserved areas. 

TV White Spaces--unused channels in the broadcast TV spectrum--have the potential to help cover the last mile of Internet access. The last mile, or final connection to the user, is one of the biggest challenges to improving connectivity in Sub-Saharan Africa and other emerging markets. TV White Spaces are important because they offer available and underutilized spectrum (especially in less developed areas), allow signals to travel over long distances, and can enable a lower-cost alternative for broadband. 

Many are catching on to the promise of TV White Spaces, developing technologies and advancing regulation to use this spectrum. Last week, 25 countries, 17 in Africa, joined the TV White Spaces & Dynamic Spectrum Africa Forum in Dakar, Senegal to discuss what’s next. The event, supported by Google, Microsoft, the Association for Progressive Communications, Afrinic, Senegal’s Minister of Communication, Telecommunications and Digital Economy and ISOC Senegal, focused on a few key themes that highlight the potential of the technology.

  • TV White Spaces are available. Using our spectrum database, we shared a visual of available white space in Senegal. There is more than 90 MHz available in Dakar alone, and more across the country--spectrum that could be used for broadband. Compared to the San Francisco Bay area, the number of available channels is remarkable.
  • Regulation can pave a path in African markets. ICASA, the South African regulator, plans to use trial outcomes to evaluate possible rules for use of the TV White Spaces. Other regulators showing interest in TV White Spaces for broadband included Senegal, as well as Malawi, where less than 9% of the population receives broadcast TV and many channels are left available.
  • Developing new technologies for TV White Spaces.  Radio manufacturers shared how TV White Spaces radios can talk to a database, which tells the radio which channels are available in a given geography. Adaptrum and Carlson presented the results of deployments of these radios, in Kenya and South Africa respectively.
From trials to databases to radios, these efforts show that players are stepping up to use TV White Spaces to help enable Internet access in West Africa and beyond. That’s good news for a future where more people have access to the Web.

Posted by Alan Norman, Access Principal

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