With the growth of the digital economy, more people need access to quality broadband internet. However, there is still an important deficit in access outside of major metro areas because of costs and availability.
White Space broadband has the potential to revolutionize the way we access the internet, especially for those in rural areas, where there is ample free, unlicensed White Space spectrum to utilize. There is not much White Space spectrum available in densely populated cities such as Los Angeles or New York City, where more people are using more television channels and there are more broadcasting stations. The technology is relatively new and ambiguous, so most deployments are still in trial phases. Many of the trials are happening in connection with libraries.
Don Means is the coordinator of the Gigabit Libraries Network (GLN), which is a global network of projects that promotes libraries as natural technology hubs for the communities they are located in, as well as promoting free, open source information in these communities through White Space broadband. The project focus areas, defined by GLN, are:
- Broadband utilization and wired/wireless infrastructure development
- Collaborations between neighboring school, public and academic librarians
- Community technology and information policy leadership
"Libraries are global, they have a long tradition to do basic service, so who better to use White Space to extend services," Means said. "Libraries can play support roles, so they are the perfect lab to experiment, and there are staff professionals trained to help you."
In the US, the FCC is currently researching and deploying Rural Broadband Experiments to learn more about White Space in rural areas around the country. The program started at the end of January and the locations will be decided soon.
"This pilot program will help us learn how fiber might be deployed where it is not now deployed; how anchor institutions — including schools and libraries — can harness demand for the greater good of an entire community," said Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman, in a statement regarding the experiments. "And how new forms of wireless can reach deep into the interior of rural America."
We've put together a list of 10 rural — and a few urban — communities experimenting with White Space broadband in innovative ways.
If you're new to White Space, read this first: White Space, the next internet disruption: 10 things to know
1. Wilmington, North Carolina
In 2012, nearly three years after the FCC proposed the first White Space commercial network in Wilmington, North Carolina, the city finally implemented this project. The project is run through Spectrum Bridge, one of the first FCC-approved White Space databases, and Wilmington was chosen because it was the first city to the switch from analog to digital TV, which freed up the wireless spectrum for White Space. Since the project began, the government is using the network to connect two local parks and several public gardens, monitor water levels, water quality, and public lighting. The city was also a pilot location for testing White Space devices to be approved by the FCC for commercial use.
2. Pascagoula, Mississippi
After Hurricane Katrina, the Pascagoula School District wanted to have White Space technology available as a disaster recovery resource. The project was designed to increase internet access for the community. The community built a moveable unit consisting of a tower and telescope. It can be moved for community events, whether that's a county fair or a concert, or in the case of emergencies, become a transportable Wi-Fi hotspot. Pascagoula also plans to use the technology to replace a DSL connection in an Adult Learning Center, which will triple the bandwidth and lower the monthly bill.
3. Delta County, Colorado
Five libraries in the Delta County libraries system serve 30,000 people. The main White Space equipment was installed in a library in Paonia, Colorado, a town of about 1,500 people. The Gigabit Libraries Network pilot began in October 2013, but in the middle of the trial, the county sliced the budget. The community thought they would have to give the equipment back and stop the White Space pilot. The hotspots in Paonia, downtown and in the park, used digital radio hardware from Carlson Wireless and Wi-Fi access points from Cisco Meraki. However, to finish funding the project, the town organized a Kickstarter campaign, attempting to raise $4,000. With 63 backers from the community and elsewhere around the country, it was funded in 30 days.
4. Visayas, Philippines
The Philippines pilot tests for White Space broadband are the most extensive in Asia. According to Means, the country is an ideal location to test White Space broadband, with its thick foliage, remote locations, and widespread villages. The pilot tests started after the Bohol earthquake and Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in 2013, and helped to provide critical disaster relief and allowed information to be transmitted throughout the affected areas of Bohol and Leyte provinces in the Visayas.
The Information and Communications Technology Office of the Department of Science and Technology is working with a private company, Nityo Infotech, for the projects. Leaders want to expand the broadband to power telemedicine, government services, education, and healthcare, as well as internet in public places.
"There is always the concern of power supply, but you can do that with a generator, solar power, or fixed locations," Means said. "It's an autonomous hub of communication and electricity."
5. Limpopo and Cape Town, South AfricaAfter pilot projects through the Microsoft 4Afrika initiative in Tanzania and Kenya, the company implemented a White Space project in the Limpopo province in South Africa. It connects schools in rural areas and uses solar powered base stations to power the system. The main base station is on the University of Limpopo campus.
Google was the first major player in the country, deploying a similar project for 10 local schools in Cape Town in 2013. The town is surrounded by hills and mountains, so there are three transmitters to deploy the wireless broadband. The main base station uses a 10 Gbps connection.
6. El Dorado County, California (Gold Country)
White Space arrived in "Gold Country" last April, when Carlson Wireless partnered with Cal.net, a northern California internet service provider, to bring internet to sections of the area. Cal.net CTO Ken Garnett said 59,000 people in Gold Country, or El Dorado County, that previously had little or no internet access would benefit from the project. Carlson's RuralConnect, which is deployed in several areas around the US, delivers broadband connectivity by transmitting over TV White Space frequencies from 470 to 698 MHz.
The Singapore White Spaces Pilot Group, which comprises companies such as Microsoft, Adaptrum, Spectrum Bridge, and Grid Communications, has deployed three projects that demonstrate the services White Space can offer. The three projects are:
National University of Singapore is a partnership between the Institute for Infocomm Research and Power Automation to monitor air conditioners and charge dorm residents accordingly.
Singapore Island Country Club will deploy smart sensors to monitor the moisture of the golf course and track golf carts.
Changi district surrounding the airport has vessels that rely on connectivity when they are anchored. Right now the internet is costly, so this pilot program is being used to determine how to lessen those expenses.
8. Isle of Bute, ScotlandStrathclyde University's Centre for White Space Communications in Scotland is a leader in research on White Space broadband. The Isle of Bute hosted an 18-month project starting in 2012 that was the first of its kind in the UK. The trial provided Wi-Fi access using White Space spectrum to eight homes on the south part of the Isle of Bute, which previously had no access to the internet. White space radio links from the local telephone exchange were connected to the eight homes, and backhaul connectivity went from the telephone exchange to the mainland and then on to BT for access to the Internet. The speed ranged from 2 to 8 Mbps, and some people called it "life-changing." The evaluation of the report, published in June 2013, monitored interference on the spectrum, showed ways in which the White Space could better be utilized with antenna heights, and gave Scotland an overall idea of how the technology could be used to connect remote territories.
9. Kansas City, Kansas
Libraries in Kansas City are testing White Space for a four month pilot, delivering free Wi-Fi in public libraries in remote areas of the city. This project is the biggest deployment that started with GLN, and often a model for the best community partnerships in using White Space broadband. The system is already discussing ideas for deploying remotes, which are the portable devices used to connect each institution to the base station that uses White Space to access Wi-Fi, to other areas of the community for wider access and/or using Wi-Fi on bookmobiles so that they can travel throughout the city.
The Kansas City K-20 Libraries initiative is a collaboration between academic, school, and public libraries that is working to spread internet access across the community. The project was inspired by Google Fiber, which is in Kansas City currently. However, the fiber doesn't reach many areas of the city, so White Space is an ideal solution to fill in the gaps.
10. West Virginia University
Students and faculty on West Virginia University's campus in Morgantown, West Virginia have Wi-Fi connectivity on Personal Rapid Transit platforms through a White Space broadband project. More than 15,000 riders travel the campus every day using electric-powered vehicles. This was the first initiative deployed by Air.U, whose goal is to bring White Space to university communities. At WVU, 12 Mbps broadband can travel more than two miles through one TV channel.
Lyndsey Gilpin has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Lyndsey Gilpin is a former Staff Writer for TechRepublic, covering sustainability, leadership, and entrepreneurship. She's co-author of the book Follow the Geeks.