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TV White Spaces Africa Forum 2013

Posted on | June 7, 2013 | 1 Comment

Last week i attended the TV White Spaces Africa Forum 2013

together with colleagues from the NSRC http://nsrc.org and ICTP http://wireless.ictp.it (thanks!).

It was an event organised and largely sponsored by Google in partnership with a number of other organisations,
including Microsoft http://www.microsoft.com/,
Internet Society Senegal http://www.isoc.sn/,
Afrinic http://www.afrinic.net/, APC http://www.apc.org/,
and the Senegalese Ministry of Communication, Telecommunications and the Digital Economy


There s plenty of tweets, https://twitter.com/search?q=%23TVWSAfrica,

and Steve Song, now also a fellow NSRCrian, has an excellent summary here:http://manypossibilities.net/2013/06/tv-white-spaces-in-africa/

– to which i’d like to add a few thoughts:

                                                     ( Steve’s lines in italics, comments in bold.)


Both [Microsoft and Google] stand to benefit from having more Africans affordably online and in this particular case, their corporate goals are fairly well-aligned with a development goal.

In some areas,  goals are well-aligned, in other areas – like local ownership, network neutrality, control and openness of data they are in conflict. 

There is the very fundamental question of why african networks and services should be run, and user profiles and profits be harvested by non-african companies. 

What stuck in my mind from this session was an interesting analogy
shared by Kai Wulff who pointed out that in Africa, taxi drivers
generally don’t fill up their tank completely but just enough to get
where they need to go. Similarly, pay-as-you-go airtime has allows for
dynamic management of phone charges. This is common knowledge but it
was a nice insight that this conceptual framework might be applied to
spectrum management.

It could be argued that the underlying logic and reasons for this,
e.g. the non-availability of capital on personal and organizational level,
should be challenged rather than solidified and capitalized on –
but that is a general comment, outside the scope of this conferences’ theme.

Arno Hart, TENET’s project manager for the [Cape Town] trial, presented the work of
the trial so far. So far 10 schools have been connected representing
more than 6400 students. So far the technology has met its most
important goal which is demonstrating non-interference with television
Cape Town has more active terrestrial television broadcast
channels than most place in South Africa so it was ideal for a trial of
TVWS. The throughput and latency of the connectivity is not quite the
10mbps over 8km that has been advertised but it was still respectable
It is evident that TVWS technology is still evolving and performance
improvements can be expected.

The focus of this trial was in fact to look at interference, in an urban privileged environment, rather than at performance in a rural, low density environment, in which we see the greatest potential of this technology.

The performance as such  is  far from what can be achieved in the 2.4 and 5 Ghz bands, for such a link.

It lead some people to note that, performance wise, of all these trials could have been done better in spectrum that already is open (2.4 and 5 GHz)).

(… The Kenya Mawingu project: …)

A video is at https://vimeo.com/60073409 –

i d be interested in people’s comments on its narrative.

There was some discussion among the participants as to whether an
authentication database was the best approach to TVWS for Africa. Some
people argued that this was importing unnecessary limitations from the

from highly developed (urban) areas rather than remote low density environments
(in which TVWS has its greatest innovative potential)
and essentially tying Africa to a western agenda and blocking innovation rather than enabling it.

It is an interesting question. On the one hand, I would like to
see TVWS achieve the same kind of success that WiFi has through an
unlicensed environment. I fear that constraints such as an
authentication database might limit the uptake of the technology.


Certainly, the idea of having to connect
to a remote database in order to just start equipment
is somewhat of a horror scenario for network deployers out in remote fields and community networkers alike.
But, from a regulators perspective, there is no necessity to limit equipment and innovative use in this way,
and one might hope the inextricability will not be interpreted in this way.

From an african regulators perspective, the US – or generally external – database is not needed in order to get started – databases may be build along the way, and be controlled on national or regional level. 

As these databases could and will become increasingly dynamic,
they carry enormous economic value and control potential.
They add one more layer to (already impressive) corporate mapping, surveillance and profiling technology.
The question of whether they will be run and owned by private global companies
and/or national/regional organizations deserves attention.


In order for  TVWS [to] achieve the same kind of success that WiFi has through an
unlicensed environment,  it will take the same essentials:

unlicensed spectrum, open standards, community interest, sub-$100 gear.

Unlicensed spectrum (Wifi) – not the mobile operators spectrum – today carries the larger part of all mobile data traffic. There is something to learn from this, also for #TVWSAfrica.


One Response to “TV White Spaces Africa Forum 2013”

  1. Steve Song
    June 13th, 2013 @ 2:30 am

    Hi Sebastian,

    Meant to send this earlier. Great post covering some issues I clearly missed or in one case chose to gloss over :) I think the biggest issue, the last you mention, is the question of whether authentication databases can be avoided or not. Jury is still out for me at least.

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