Philippines eyeing TV ‘white space’ for broadband

  • TV white space coverage is 16 times more than Wi-Fi
  • Manila looking at private-public partnership model

THE Philippines Government has embarked on a project to tap unused “white space” frequencies in between TV channels to deliver broadband connection, particularly in rural areas.

The Information and Communications Technology Office of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-ICTO) officially rolled outs its TV White Space (TVWS) project on June 19, as part of the country’s celebration of ICT Month at the ICTO office in Quezon City.

ICTO executive director Louis Casambre, along with representatives from private IT vendors, said in his presentation that TV white space would complement existing wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi whose coverage limited to just a few meters.

“The coverage of TV white space is 16 times more than Wi-Fi, but it can be used as a backend to distribute Wi-Fi in remote areas,” Casambre said.

The ICTO chief, however, said that the Government was still studying the commercial deployment of the technology. “We might do it via the PPP (private-public partnership) model,” he said.

The TVWS initiative, said Casambre, has an allocated budget of P1 million (US$24,000) only since it is part of the DOST’s Integrated Government Philippines (iGovPhil) Project.

TV white space, which refers to unutilized TV frequencies in the VHF and UHF bands, got a boost in 2010 when the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the use of TVWS for data communications.

Likewise, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has issued standards for the development of TVWS devices for wireless regional access networks, under IEEE802.22, similar to standards used for wireless local area networks or Wi-Fi also known as IEEE802.11, and its variants.

Philippines eyeing TV ‘white space’ for broadbandCurrently available TVWS equipment can deliver up to 6 Mbps of data throughput at a maximum range of 10 kilometers. TVWS’ long range means that fewer base stations are required to provide coverage for a given area compared with existing wireless technologies, making it a cost effective means of broadband data delivery.

Other than its long range propagation characteristics, TVWS signals can literally pass through several concrete walls as well as thick foliage. This means that customer premise equipment or CPEs can have indoor antennas also making it ideal for the uneven terrain in the countryside.

Casambre said TV “white space” technology can be utilized to provide data connectivity for applications such as rural broadband, environmental sensor networks, telemedicine, and educational content delivery.

“We are very excited with this new technology, for the first time ever, I think we finally have a solution to address the issue that a significant percentage of our population cannot reap the benefits of Internet connectivity because of the unavailability of infrastructure,” he said.

“With TVWS’s potentially large coverage footprint, coverage can be extended to areas not usually reached by conventional wired or wireless broadband. Base stations can also be further apart, making this a cost effective solution.”

Casambre said pilot tests of TVWS equipment from hardware providers US-based Adaptrum and UK-based Neul Ltd will start this month, providing connectivity for several sites in the Quezon City science community, while pilot tests are planned for the Visayas and Mindanao within the year.

The Government is also looking at the technology for its environmental sensor networks such as those that are used by DOST’s National Operational Assessment of Hazards (Noah) project.

Line-of-sight not needed

Neul vice president for sales and applications engineering Tracy Hopkins explained the technology to participants at the technical sessions, particularly in sensor nets and machine-to-machine applications.

“The propagation of radio waves in the TVWS band allows systems to reach places that existing technologies cannot. Dense vegetation and terrain can be overcome as TVWS offers non-line-of-sight capabilities, enabling rural coverage for up to 10km,” she said.

Software giant Microsoft was also on hand to talk about the possible future applications of the technology and why companies like Microsoft, Google, and the BBC are supporting TV white space development.

“The long-range and low-power characteristics of TV white space technology provide a superb alternative for rural broadband coverage, cellular offloading, super Wi-Fi hotspots, and machine-to-machine communications such as sensor networks,” said Jeffrey Yan, Microsoft director of technology policy for Asia Pacific region.

The final component of the TVWS initiative is the convening of a multi-sectoral ad hoc committee for the adoption of TV white space technology primarily to draw up guidelines for spectrum usage as well as strategies for the adoption of TVWS not only by the Government but the private sector as well.

For his part, DOST secretary Mario Montejo said, “Frequency spectrum is a precious national resource, and it is imperative that we maximize its use for the benefit of most of our countrymen. Technology should not only benefit those in the cities but also those in rural communities.”  –

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