DOST eyes TV 'white space' for rural wireless Internet

By Alexander Villafania

QUEZON CITY, METRO MANILA - In an effort to provide an inexpensive Internet connectivity with wide availability, the Department of Science and Technology-Information Communications Technology Office (DOST-ICTO) started the Television White Space (TVWS) initiative.

This initiative uses unused TV frequencies, particularly those in the VHF (very high frequency) and UHF (ultra high frequency) bands.

The initiative would provide alternative data connectivity to rural areas where commercial connectivity is lacking or totally absent.

The deployment of TVWS equipment would help implement several other data-intensive projects such as rural Internet, delivery of digital learning modules, tele-health services, and connection to remote government offices.

The TVWS initiative will also allow for deployment of networks of remote sensors for weather and geophysical monitoring, as well as flood and earthquake sensing equipment.

The DOST-ICTO has been looking to provide Internet connectivity to rural areas through several projects, including partnerships with mobile telecommunications firms to provide wireless connectivity where available.

TV white space refers to frequencies that are not used for commercial purposes, such as TV and radio broadcast. These range from 54 megahertz (MHz) to 806 MHz. While most existing TV and radio broadcast companies operate in these frequencies, there are specific bands that remain unused, thus are called “white space.”

The eventual transition to digital TV by broadcast companies, which use higher frequencies for distance, would also free up bands allowing for much wider connectivity for rural areas without commercial Internet services.

Some TVWS equipment are said to be able to deliver up to 6 megabits per second data throughput within a 10 kilometer radius. Because of signal strength within the VHF and UHF bands, these can also be used in uneven terrain and physical obstacles, such as trees. This would be ideal for deployment in areas surrounded by forests and hills.

Under the DOST-ICTO TVWS project, a pilot test of a set of equipment would be done in June at the Quezon City Science campus, followed by a pilot test in certain areas in Visayas and Mindanao.

Among the partners of the DOST-ICTO for this initiative are TVWS services providers Adaptrum and Neul Ltd.

DOST-ICTO Executive Director Louis Casambre said in a statement the TVWS could speed up implementation of rural connectivity in the Philippines, a country where only 24 percent of its population are connected to the Internet.

“I think we finally have a solution to address the issue that a significant percentage of our population cannot reap the benefits of Internet connectivity because of the unavailability of infrastructure.”

“With TVWS's potentially large coverage footprint, coverage can be extended to areas not usually reached by conventional wired or wireless broadband. Base stations can also be further apart, making this a cost effective solution,” Casambre said.

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