white-space data networking Archive

Google using TV white space to provide broadband in remote South Africa

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Google

Google Europe Blog: Improving Internet access in Africa with ‘White Spaces’

My Comments

What is “white space”?

A term that we will hear a fair bit of with Internet services is “white space”. This is UHF or VHF radio spectrum that has been newly created as the result of a nation or region switching from an analogue TV service to a digital TV service, which is typically more spectrum-efficient.

How is this relevant

The use of “white space” is becoming very appealing for Internet in rural and remote areas due to the fact that the VHF and UHF frequencies have relatively longer wavelengths than the frequencies used for most wireless-broadband applications. This allows for a longer distance between the base station and remote stations which suits this kind of deployment.

Such setups will be established on the concept of the fixed-wireless broadband setup where the customer-premises equipment will be connected to a fixed antenna (aerial), typically a rooftop aerial.

A lot of the talk about these services relates to whether these setups should be worked on licensed spectrum or the newly-free spectrum be declared in a manner to allow unlicensed use for this application, in a similar vein to Wi-Fi wireless.

In a test that was undertaken in some parts of rural USA by Google, it was proven that white space could be used as a wireless last-mile backhaul without interfering with existing TV stations and other spectrum users. This was through the use of a database which identifies channels that are used that is indexed by GPS-driven geographic parameters. The base station equipment are equipped with a GPS receiver to determine their geographic location and this comes in to play during the commissioning stage in order to determine the useable channels. Of course, the customer-premises equipment would seek for the frequencies associated with services that exist in a similar vein to a cable modem.

The African deployment

After Google had their success with the Kansas City fibre-driven next-generation-broadband rollout when it came to establishing an Internet-service, they put forward the idea of setting up a trial “white-space” fixed-wireless setup in some of the remote parts of South Africa. The idea is to establish access to Internet for the schools that are in this area.

It was organised in partnership with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, equivalent to the US’s FCC or UK’s Ofcom communications authorities and is assisted by broadcasters and the industry.

What I would see of this is a chance for African nations to observe this trial and see how it can allow for decent broadband service in to their remote areas. This will include assessing what kind of power is needed at the customer’s end so as to determine whether this could work on a solar power setup that serves one building.  Similarly, this could be assessed for establishing cellular-data backhauls for extending or improving access to Internet service via cost-effective wireless-broadband equipment in these areas.

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North Carolina Officially Launches the First Commercial TV White Spaces Network

Article

North Carolina Officially Launches the First Commercial TV White Spaces Network

My Comments

There was an official launch of a commercial-service-ready Internet-service backbone based on “TV White space” in Wilmington, North Carolina, USA. The network was to use vacant frequencies in the VHF (most likely Band III) and UHF bands that were used by TV broadcasters before they went to digital technology and shut off their analogue signals. It is primarily a fixed-wireless setup but there is the ability to use transportable modems at the customer’s end of the link. One major benefit was the ability for improved “non-line-of-sight” performance which means that forests or built-up areas cannot easily interfere with the signal.

The idea behind the “white-space” network was to make Wilmington a “smart city”, a proving ground and commercial-rollout showcase for the technology. But there were some gaps concerning the rollout and delivery of this technology to customers. For example, could customers use an existing rooftop VHF or UHF TV aerial (antenna) that is still in good working order as the aerial for the “white-space” service’s link; or would they need to install a new aerial on the mast. 

As well, the main deployment was to cover Wilmington’s parks and gardens but I would rather that we see a full-scale “TV White Space” rollout that encompasses one or more country towns with associated hamlets or villages. Here, this can be used to assess coverage of sparse living areas like farmland or mountainous area and to assess how a network operator can go about covering particular areas where there is low coverage.

Similarly, I would like to find out whether the service is really costly to provide to the customers and what the real-world bandwidth and service reliability is like in a “White Space” Internet-delivery setup.

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Guest Post: How Congress’ spectrum bills hurt the tech community in 2011

Getting Congress to agree on anything is a challenge. When it comes to spectrum bills there is disagreement on both sides with how the situation should be handled. In some instances it seems that the tech community would benefit from freeing up spectrum for the wireless industry. Yet with some of the limitations proposed, it could all end up in utter disaster.

The spectrum bills are trying to define who will have access to wireless broadband. In essence television broadcasters are being asked to give up at least part of their spectrum for mobile broadband. It seems like most favor this idea, but as is usually the case, the devil is in the details.

Agreement

One thing everyone seems to agree on is providing both the spectrum and the funding for public safety entities. This national broadband network would make it possible for people to handle an emergency. In the case of 9-11 the network already set in place failed. There were issues with communication that ended up delaying some of the much needed help. With a national network, information would flow smoothly and at a much faster pace if a disaster did take place. Who wouldn’t feel a sense of safety knowing that the people that take care of major issues and crisis have an open source of communication ensuring that they are more efficient in their duties?

Disagreement

The spectrum bills asks television broadcasters to give up some of their spectrum. As an incentive, they would receive a portion of the auction price for that specific spectrum. Here’s where things get tricky. In some instances, Congress is attempting to take more control of unlicensed wireless. While Wi-Fi and Bluetooth operate in this portion of unlicensed spectrum there is a threat to other potential opportunities for advancement. Ever heard of the Super Wi-Fi (also called White Spaces broadband)? There is no guarantee that these plans or ideas would be allowed to proceed under certain spectrum bills. This may close the door to future Wi-Fi developments.

Licensed bidders like several of the big internet service providers have the ability to bid on this open spectrum. While this does generate funds and gives these companies a larger range of access, it is the everyday person looking to take advantage of the wireless system that could lose out. He or she would have to gather together a large number of individuals and attempt to make a single bid as a collective group. Even with the latest technology, the chances of outbidding larger corporations seem slim.

The final oddity in some of Congress’ spectrum bills is the geographic location issue. It is being suggested that people should bid on available spectrum in certain locations. A company may have access in one state and no access in another. It prevents a national system for everyone to take advantage of. Instead there would be a set of disconnected lines that can only be accessed from one specific location.

Progress seems to walk a fine line. On the one hand everyone wants to see improvement. The problem is that everyone wants that improvement to look different. Some internet service providers may want to make a bid for the spectrum, giving them unlimited access. Individual users have concerns that their own Wi-Fi will be hindered as there are regulations and rules for different entities in different parts of the country.

The tech industry needs an environment that is open to new discoveries. It is here that new technology is developed and offered up as progress and improvement to everyone. At this point there is no one spectrum bill that truly benefits the tech community as a whole.

Author Bio : Sam Kirby is a freelance content writer who develops articles on various topics. Sam’s main interest lies however in developing articles realted to Internet services and internet service providers.

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What is happening with rural broadband access

Tree on a country propertyAny of you who are regular readers of this site or who subscribe to it will have seen regular articles on activity concerning improvement of broadband Internet service in rural areas. Previously, I have written a post about why I stand for proper Internet service in the countryside and cover it in this site.

But I have observed activities that have raised the standard of rural Internet service in certain areas where there has been lively and competitive trading environment for Internet service. These range from local startups who offer to raise the bar for Internet in a country town to governments putting their hand to the plough for real broadband in the country.

Why rural broadband service

Farmers and small business in rural areas

Primarily farmers and small-business owners would benefit from proper broadband in the country. This is due to more of the business being transacted online such as the use of e-government services as part of managing livestock on the farm.

There is also the desire to be competitive with urban businesses or, in the case of farming, be responsive to customer and partner needs very quickly.

A motel that can offer public-access Internet as a competitive edge

Motels like this one can offer Wi-Fi hotspots as a competitive edge

It also extends to hospitality businesses like hotels, motels, cafes and restaurants in these areas who want to offer public-access Internet service as a way of offering “that bit extra”. This would encompass resorts created around mountains or water features like ski resorts or lakeside resorts.

Similarly, education institutions who have rural campuses can benefit from real broadband Internet as a study and research tool. This could lead to universities and the like enriching the town with research-driven business.

Country living

The countryside is infact considered an ideal place to live due to a slower pace of life. As well, some parts of the country are particular areas of attraction for this class of living due to features of natural beauty like water features, forests or mountains.

An increasing number of urban-based people visit the country as a holiday destination or even move there. Here they would benefit from the same standard of broadband as they have in the city so they can communicate with relatives or friends there.

Similarly, the appeal of telecommuting wound go in hand with the country life as people can head in to the city only when they need to conduct business meetings. This would appeal to semi-retired people who are reducing their time in the main office.

Peri-urban areas

I am also encompassing peri-urban rural areas as well as the typical rural areas that are a distance away from major towns in the scope of this article. These are typically farming districts, areas of outstanding natural beauty or areas surrounding classic monuments that abut a major city; but are sparsely populated compared to the major city.

The people who live in the major city see these places as being a destination for a day trip and a lot of business in these areas is boosted by the tourists from the major city. Some of these areas, especially those focused around areas of outstanding beauty also attract retirees or other people who are “done with the city” as a place of residence, although it doesn’t take them long to travel to town when they need to visit it.

Examples of these in Australia are the Yarra Valley Wine District and the Dandenongs in Melbourne; the Blue Mountains in Sydney and Barwon Heads in Geelong. In France, there would be the wine regions surrounding some of the major cities like Bordeaux.

Action that has been undertaken on this front

Local initiatives

A major form of action that I have noticed is initiatives that are driven by local government and business. This has commonly occurred in broadband-improvement rollouts that are funded by local councils and / or facilitated by small local telecommunications firms or ISPs.

The best examples are the UK developments where local broadband service providers are formed or regional broadband service providers plough effort into “switching on” particular parishes. There are intense local awareness campaigns run by these small broadband service providers to solicit interest from the residents and business owners; and they will manifest in the form of offline and online promotions; including town-hall meetings.

In some of the UK deployments, there has been the use of local “sweat equity” for assisting in the establishment of fibre trunks as well as local landowners setting up easements for these fibre trunks.

Similarly local governments in the UK and France have provided seed money to the broadband initiatives. These are usually to make the towns attract more investment as well as to ignite local “e-government” initiatives.

National assistance

Defining universal-service obligations

Some countries are taking action to define a minimum broadband Internet service standard to be available across their territories. This is akin to the universal service standards that have been applied to electricity and telephone services.

Here, this may be achieved through extending the remit of the universal telephone service, including collecting monies associated with its provision, to the broadband Internet service.

National and international funding

This also leads to national governments funding broadband-service improvement; usually as part of an Internet-service improvement for the nation.as In Europe, for example, the nations also receive handouts from the European Union in Brussels towards facilitating these improvements.

In some countries like Australia and the UK, the upgrading of the telecommunications backbone to fibre-optic technology and the provision of fibre-based infrastructure close to or reaching the customer is considered a major driver for rural-broadband improvement. The use of public resources for this kind of upgrade has often beem met with derision by various conservative groups because they would rather see it all left in the hands of private enterprise.

Technology

Some of the technology is based on what is being used to established the “next-generation broadband” Internet services and is being used as a way of catering to the growth of these rural areas and the changing data transfer needs.

Fibre-to-the-cabinet technology

This typically creates a high-speed fibre-optic backbone to one or more street cabinets located close to customer clusters.The customers have the phone connections linked to this cabinet and the Internet service is delivered via ADSL2 or VDSL2 technology over these phone services.They may have the regular telephone provided via the town’s exchange, a sub-exchange in the street cabinet or VoIP technology.

In some situations, this technique has been used as an “ADSL2 booster” effort by bringing a higher-throughput ADSL2 service to customers who, by virtue of distance to the exchange, would receive lower throughput service or no service at all.

This also opens up a path for offering fibre-to-the-premises next-generation broadband Internet to customers in these towns, either as a service differentiator or as an upgrade path. It also provides for service growth especially if a town acquires a major employer and sees its capacity grow.

Fibre-optic trunks

A fibre-optic trunk line that passes country areas may be treated like a natural-gas pipeline passing these areas. Here, branch lines or “spurs” are connected to the trunk line and used to serve local communities; while the trunk serves cities that are at each end of the line.

This is seen as a way to establish a next-generation broadband Internet service in to the neighbouring towns in a cost-effective manner.

Terrestrial wireless and “white space” spectrum

Another technology that is exciting the prospects of real broadband to the country is the concept of terrestrial wireless. These setups are typically fixed-wireless links that serve individual households or, in some cases, communities or household clusters, with a wired technology like ADSL2 or Ethernet linking to each customer.

Initially this technology was based on 2.4GHz or similar radio links but there is a new break being facilitated at the moment and it is known as “white space”. This is where UHF or, in some cases, Band III VHF, TV spectrum that has been vacated by TV broadcasters as they change to spectrum-efficient digital TV technology.

Governments are looking at using this bandwidth as a cost effective way to provide terrestrial-wireless Internet service to country areas where it would be difficult or cost-prohibitive to provide copper or fibre-optic wireline Internet service. Examples of this kind of setup would be mountains or islands.

This will typically end up as a fixed-wireless deployment with a modem connected to the aerial (antenna) which would most likely be a high-gain TV aerial. This modem would be connected to a broadband router to serve the home network installed at homes in these locations.

Issues to be looked at

A key issue to be looked at in relation to providing a proper broadband Internet service to the country is the decrepit telephony infrastructure that exists in these areas. This is something that I have seen for myself with people who have lived in the country or peri-urban areas as they experienced ADSL service that performed poorly or became less reliable.

Here, telephone companies have historically allowed the telephony infrastructure to perform just enough for voice traffic. As well, due to long cable runs, it has become cost-prohibitive to always renew this telephone wiring to the customer’s door. In some cases, monopoly telephony carriers have allowed the telephony infrastructure to become severely derelict, with callers experiencing poor-quality telephone conversations where they hear crackling or crosstalk.

Dial-up modems and fax machines have worked to what was expected of these phone lines, usually using error-correction methods as part of the data transmission protocols.

ADSL broadband has put a newer requirement on the phone lines due to the bandwidth decreasing as the distance increases. In some cases, newer wiring has effectively increased the performance of the telephone system as far as ADSL service is concerned. On the other hand older and decaying connections would impair the telephone circuit’s ADSL performance, even causing the ADSL signal to drop out. This is even though you could successfully make or take a telephone call on that same line.

What needs to happen if ADSL broadband is being rolled out in to a rural area, the telephone lines need to be checked for quality and reliability. This includes checking connections for quality and reliability; and that ADSL line-distance metrics need to be true to the phone service’s distance from the exchange.

It also includes re-assessing telephone systems whenever newer building developments take place; which can happen over a town’s lifespan. It also includes situations where a neighbouring town becomes larger and the current area becomes a suburb of the neighbouring town.

Conclusion

There have been some positive steps taken by different parties to make the idea of real broadband Internet service in the country a reality. This includes encompassing it as part of defining the minimum requirements for an Internet service.

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IEEE 802.22–now the standard for “white space” wide-area wireless network infrastructure

Article

Rural white space wireless standard signed off • The Register

My Comments

Most countries are now moving to digital TV services and, as they switch off the analogue TV signals that broadcast on the UHF spectrum, they open up significant tranches of this radio spectrum. The same holds true for VHF TV spectrum, especially if the white space there isn’t being used for DAB-based digital radio or similar activities. Questions are being raised about what this vacant spectrum should be used for – newer broadcasters, emergency-service radiocommunications or rural Internet service. It will be more so if a digital-TV-broadcasting technology’s “single frequency network” abilities are proven and exploited by the broadcasters as a tool for covering areas of poor TV reception without using extra radio spectrum.

I have previously covered the UK and US efforts to use “white space” as a tool for delivering real broadband to rural communities. Here, I have viewed the proper use of the spectrum as to assure reliable reception of radio and TV services and provision of improved broadcast services for rural areas as well as providing real broadband to these areas.

Now the IEEE have called a standard for data networks that use this UHF-band “white space” as the transmission medium.  This standard has been called as the IEEE 802.22 standard and is intended to be called this to avoid the press’s practice of referring it to Wi-Fi for “white space” where Wi-Fi really is about local networks working on the 802.11 series of standards.

Here, this standard is about long round-trip data that is part of service-provider-to-consumer data links. Of course, like most other wireless network technologies like 802.11n and wired network technologies like DOCSIS cable Internet, HomePlug powerline, MoCA coaxial and the legacy “coaxial Ethernet” and unswitched Cat5 Ethernet technologies, thus one uses shared bandwidth from the transmission towers. Here, the shared bandwidth would theoretically be 22Mbps on a regular 8MHz UHF TV channel.

There have been the concerns about negotiation of used spectrum, with the hardware able to detect where spectrum is occupied or use GPS geolocation technology and “lookup tables” to identify blank spectrum.

Now there is a newer standard being worked on as a “point-standard” or addendum for this application. This standard, known as 802.22.1 is to alleviate any interference that the technology may cause to wireless microphones and similar devices that work on the UHF spectrum.

Of course, the technology shouldn’t be thought of as a networking or Internet-delivery technology for use in larger cities. It should also be noted that as a town grows and becomes more dense, the town should look at implementing the wired-broadband technologies like DSL or fibre.

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UHF-band “white-space” tests for wireless broadband successful in UK

Article

BT: Tests using white space for rural broadband are ‘very encouraging’ – FierceWireless:Europe

My Comments

There have been a few tests taking place in various countries to use bandwidth vacated by TV stations when they gone digital for use as the wireless last-mile in broadband service delivery. This application of the “white space” will be used primarily to deliver real high-speed broadband in to households and small businesses in rural and remote communities.

The BT Openreach tests that occurred recently and were cited in this article were performed on the UHF TV band and were covering the Isle Of Bute in Scotland. This exploited the ability for this band to be received on indoor antennas (aerials) like the typical “rabbit’s ears” used on portable TVs, as well as outdoor aerials.

A good question that may be worth raising with a UHF-based “white space” setup may be whether such setups may cause digital-TV reception problems for stations broadcasting on that band. This is more so in areas where the UHF band is being used as a “repeater” / “translator” broadcast band to fill in reception black spots in a TV broadcaster’s market area. In a rural area, there will be these transmitters being used for each TV broadcaster that is to be received in the area alongside any “white-space” Internet-delivery setup.

Other questions worth asking include whether such a setup will use “fibre-to-the-transmitter” or other high-speed wired backbones, what kind of bandwidth is available to the customer and whether it will be a “shared bandwidth” setup like DOCSIS cable-modem setups or a “dedicated bandwidth” setup like what Ethernet and DSL setups can provide.

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Super Wi-Fi or the use of vacated VHF/UHF radio spectrum for wireless networks – is it the right application?

 Super Wi-Fi: The Great White Hype? – SmallNetBuilder

My comments

What is happening with the VHF/UHF radio spectrum now

Over the last few years, various countries are moving their over-their-air television broadcasting setups from analogue (NTSC/PAL) technology to digital (ATSC/DVB-T) technology and during this transition phase, various tranches of radio spectrum have been opened up in the VHF Band 1 and 3 bands and the UHF bands. This is due to the digital technologies being more spectrum-efficient than the analogue technologies they are replacing.

What the USA is trying to do with their vacated VHF and UHF spectrum is to use it for long-range data networks rather than reuse it as space for more broadcasters to operate in. This is compared to what UK, Europe and Australia are doing with this spectrum where they reuse it, especially VHF Band 3, for DAB-based digital radio broadcasting and / or “packing out” the UHF Band with more DVB-T TV transmitters.

As well, in most of these countries, certain channels of the UHF band are used for 2-way CB radio activity and for short-range radio applications like wireless microphones or  remote controls.

What does the US “Super Wi-Fi” concept offer?

This concept applies most of the media-specific technologies implemented in the 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi networks to the use of vacant VHF and UHF spectrum. This is intended to provide a wireless data path alternative to WiMAX or 3G cellular data technologies for providing wireless-broadband service.

It would require the use of fixed base stations that can work in the VHF Bands and the lower frequencies of the UHF bands as well as easily-relocatable access points that work on the higher frequencies of the UHF band. There are a lot of requirements set by the FCC in order to curb unnecessary interference such as use of geolocation technology and look-up tables to determine the frequency for the base stations to tune to.

The SmallNetBuilder article had mentioned that the technology would only be suited for long-range work such as a cost-effective method of providing a rural area with real broadband Internet. It wouldn’t work well in increasing the throughput of broadband service in an urban area because most of the spectrum would be used by the TV channels. They also looked in to the issue of channel-bonding as a way of increasing data throughput but whether this could be seen as an option to be used in the standards.

Conclusion

I would concur that technologies that use surplus broadcasting spectrum would be better implemented towards working as a way of providing broadband to difficult-to-serve rural areas. Here, they would work as a way of bringing the service to the consumer’s property and that we use regular 2.4GHz or 5GHz Wi-Fi technology for in-property wireless networking.

As well, I would prefer the broadcasting spectrum the be used to attain reliable reception of radio or television broadcast signals or provide improved broadcasting services. This step as well as the previously-mentioned one should achieve the goal of making sure that people who live or work in the country are not second-class citizens.

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