Nigeria considers alternative technology for rural connectivity

With the release of draft guideline by Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) on the use of TV white space technology for rural broadband connectivity in Nigeria, the country has made a giant step in resolving failed efforts in this regard.

The regulatory bodies also plan to organize an Industry consultation to present the draft guidelines to all Industry Stakeholders. This is seen by stakeholders as a positive response to the clamour for licensing of the technology for that purpose. It would be recalled that Federal government has tried unsuccessfully in a bid to provide connectivity to rural dwellers in the country.

Among some of the initiatives are National Rural Telephony Project (NRTP) started in 2011, which has been abandon after investing huge fund into it, as well as universal access projects that are conceived by the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) to bridge the ICT gaps in unserved and underserved areas or communities.

These have not achieved the desired result of providing connectivity to rural communities where operators are not motivated into deploying service because of lack of commercial value. These make the release draft guideline for the use of a new technology, TV White Space in a bid to extend broadband internet coverage, especially to rural communities and other far-flung communities a welcome development.

As rural areas do not have commercial value to attract operators who are in business to make money, the conversation is around a cost effective way of providing internet access to rural Nigerians and TV white space comes to mind.Laying cable or fibre in remote rural areas is not only extremely difficult but often prohibitive in terms of costs. However, Nicole Naidoo, business development manager for ICC Networking (ICCN) says television white space (TVWS) has the ability to transform the way citizens buy and use wireless Internet across the African continent.

TVWS, as the name suggests, is the unused spectrum channels used for TV broadcasting. It is essentially wireless technology developed by using the very high frequency (VHF) and ultra high frequency (UHF) spectrum.

In the days of old analogue TV sets, one had to manually tune into the channels they wanted. While trying to find the right station, there were empty spaces with lots of ‘snow’ between stations. These are in essence, what white spaces are.TV networks leave these gaps in between channels for the purpose of buffering, but this very space can be harnessed to deliver internet. It is ideal for rural areas, as the signal can travel up to 50 kilometres and over rough terrain to reach these areas that are inaccessible or hard to reach.

In some countries, where there is a wide variety of signal distributors and hundreds of TV stations, white spaces are few and the allocation of these unused channels is an issue, as users can experience interference. However, Africa doesn’t have this problem as there are comparatively few broadcasters and plenty of spectrum, meaning disruptions are rare, adds Naidoo.

Engr. OlusolaTeniola, president, Association of Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ATCON), said that TV white space is an experimental application to try out in areas of congestion or scarcity of radio frequency.

“It is one of the several ways of broadband type application. Others are spectrum 2.6GHZ, 800MHZ among others. These spectrums should be made available in timely manner by NCC at affordable prize so that in addition to TV white space operators both large and small can have wide options choices for broadband network rollout to communication in Nigeria.

“In fact, TV white space is very good choice and option for networks been built by communities because of low cost slots in it,” he noted.

In this article:
NBCNCCNicole Naidoo
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