IGF: Microsoft showcases Super Wi-Fi network

By James Ratemo, Nairobi.
Leading software company, Microsoft in partnership with hardware supplier, Adaptrum, is testing a technology that would see unused television spectrum (white space) used to relay Internet broadband.
Dubbed as super wi-fi, the new technology of wireless data transmission is seeking to solve the headache of clogged mobile data spectrum that comes with a high number of subscribers.

At an exhibition during the sixth IGF in Nairobi, Adaptrum demonstrated how HD video streaming and high-speed Internet occurs over unused TV broadcast channels (white spaces).

Adaptrum hardware expert, Tang Haiyun said the white spaces that are not used for the transmission of digital TV are a significant source of airwaves for new mobile broadband networks.

In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission, US, voted to open up the unlicensed radio spectrum for public use and by 2012 the new technology would be commercially available.

Microsoft has already built an experimental mobile broadband network at its US headquarters.

“Spectrum is a finite natural resource…t he TV white spaces offer tremendous potential to extend the benefits of wireless connectivity to many more people, in more locations, through the creation of super WiFi networks.”

In Kenya for instance, the mobile operators have had to put up with ‘crowded’ network due to scarcity of spectrum and the super wi-fi technology would come in handy.

The Communication Commission of Kenya is no longer issuing licenses for ne Television channelks due to lack of more frequencies. The anticipated analogue to digital broadcasting would free more channels which can be used for broadband.

The super wi-fi just works like the usual wireless data transmission technology only that it rides on unlicensed or unused airwaves between TV channels.

It is purely normal for TV channels to be allocated frequencies that are not so close to each other to avoid interference. The frequencies between the channels technically called ‘white spaces’ is what super wi-fi will ride of to deliver broadband to devices.

The so-called “white spaces” would otherwise be lying around unused.
Unlike current Wi-Fi airwaves, whose reach can be measured in feet, the spectrum that would carry Super Wi-Fi would be able to travel for several miles because of their lower frequency and ability to penetrate barriers like brick walls and trees.

You can also anticipate download speeds of 15Mbps to 20Mbps, about as fast as a cable modem.

Back in 2008, when the white space plan was first approved in America, the biggest concern was that using these airwaves for data transmission could interfere with TV signals.

However spectrum expert, Tang Haiyun of Adaptrium, the company partnering with Microsoft to roll out the new technology argues that the utilization of the white space do not interfere with Television channels due to the sophisticated technology involved.

“The new technology shall be available for widespread use in 2012…its propagation is 3-5 times better than the normal wi-fi,” he said.

Ever rising consumer demand for smartphones and tablet computers has alerted companies and regulators to the need to make additional radio spectrum available to support them.

Statistics show that in 2010, 143 countries commercially offered 3G services compared to 95 in 2007

Internet access at home has increased from 1.4 billion in 2009 to almost 1.6 billion in 2010. Mobile cellular growth in developing world increased from 53 per cent in 2005 to 73 per cent in 2010.

In a separate interview with The Nation at the IGF forum, UN offices, Alcatel-Lucent Executive Vice President, Global Government and Public Affairs Gabriele Gauthey said mobile spectrum is quickly becoming scarce and its use must be managed to ensure sustainability.

Sharing of Internet and mobile infrastructure will ensure sustainable deployment of new technologies and protection of environment, experts have advised.

Mr Gauthey called on Kenya and other African governments to work with service providers and expand Internet reach to rural areas to enhance growth.

“Research has shown that 10 per cent extra penetration in broadband underpins one per cent GDP growth…Governments must put broadband on their agenda and concentrate in expanding access,” said Michele Castegnaro, Alcatel-Lucent Sales director, Strategic industries, East Africa and Angola.

She said the deployment of modern technologies like 4G require extensive use of the spectrum and it would be counterproductive for each mobile service provider to install own networks and masts.

The world expects a 34 per cent increase in Internet traffic in five years…we have to anticipate scarcity of the spectrum, said Casternago.

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