• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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BusinessDay

Weak regulatory framework hinders prospect for new rural broadband technology

Global-Broadband

The absence of an appropriate regulatory framework to push the adoption and usage of Television White Space (TVWS) technology for broadband delivery is hindering the deployment of affordable internet service to Nigerians, especially rural dwellers, market watchers say.

Television white spaces are unused gaps between TV channels in the UHF spectrum. TVWS technology has proved very effective for the delivery of broadband internet for unserved and under-served communities, especially because UHF signals which it uses can penetrate foliage and work well in difficult terrain.

Industry watchers say the cheap deployment cost of TVWS technology could entice smaller service providers to venture into the rural market where the high cost of alternative technologies has been a disincentive before now, but for the lack of a regulatory framework.

They further observe that putting in place a regulatory framework should be particularly compelling, considering the prospects it holds for improvement in the lives of teeming rural dwellers in the provision of access to e-health, e-government, e-learning and e-business, as well as the ability to work from remote locations.

The availability of a legal framework, they add, would open fresh business opportunities for smaller companies interested in providing broadband services to niche markets.

The Federal Government had earlier approved the piloting of TVWS technology in Nigeria in consonance with the National Broadband Plan (NBP).

H. Sama Nwana, executive director, Dynamic Spectrum Alliance (DSA), said they encourage government to make the needed legal and regulatory changes to allow this new technology to be deployed more broadly.

“Much more needs to be achieved in order to meet the surge in data demand and the lack of availability of spectrum,” Nwana told BusinessDay at the Nigeriacom conference in Lagos.

With TVWS, according to technology experts, rural dwellers can access broadband services with speeds of up to 4MB per second using their analogue TV antennas.

The Ministry of Communications Technology, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) have already set up a committee to consider the needs and modalities for a TVWS trial in Nigeria.

“The newly-formed committee submitted a TVWS report to the National Frequency Council, where it was endorsed and as a result, the trials will be regulated and supervised by the ministry, NCC and NBC,” said Nwana.

Paul Garnett, director, technology policy group, Microsoft, said, “TVWS technology, when combined with other low-cost wireless technologies, such as Wi-Fi, offers a substantial opportunity for businesses, consumers and governments around the world to improve the economics of broadband network deployment.”

In May, Microsoft announced new TVWS partnerships and projects on four continents, including its newest partnership with SpectraLink Wireless and Facebook to provide low-cost wireless connectivity to students and faculty at universities in Koforidua, Ghana.

BusinessDay learnt that talks between the Nigerian government and Microsoft on the deployment of TVWS in the country are still ongoing.

Meanwhile, WhiteSpaces, a Nigerian startup, is set to launch a project that will employ the unused spaces between TV channels to deliver affordable and high-speed mobile and wireless internet broadband access to unserved and underserved Nigerians. The project will focus on low-end users and rural areas using TVWS technology.

“Internet access is a really big deal, with the 6-7 percent broadband penetration in Nigeria. The internet and the web have transformed our lives and the way we live,” said Mark Afolabi, founder of WhiteSpaces, in an interview.

Seunfunmi Akinola, WhiteSpace’s social architect, said one of the huge areas they were innovating on was affordable and reliable internet access for education.

“WhiteSpaces will bridge the gap in the quality of online education access and give kids and youth in underserved communities new opportunities to learn and acquire the skills that are essential to succeed in modern society, regardless of their backgrounds,” he said.

At the University of Ilorin (Unilorin), Kwara State, there are over 40,000 students and faculty staff, with many staying on campus and a larger number residing off campus. Like many Nigerian universities, Unilorin has realised the importance of the internet and has engaged WaveTek to provide Wi-Fi and TVWS connectivity across the entire campus and to hostels and dormitories off campus. Eventually, coverage will extend to neighbouring villages.

BusinessDay gathered that WaveTek and Unilorin have also agreed to establish a TVWS Research Centre on the Unilorin campus for students to explore the technology and develop practical applications.

Ben Uzor