The Isle of Arran has long suffered with slow or no internet connection due to the geographical challenges of delivering broadband in the traditional way. Not only is this a headache for residents, it is a major issue for businesses and a community that relies heavily on tourism. Being online is vital for small businesses who need to advertise their services or make bookings and travel arrangements for would-be visitors, especially as research shows over 80% of consumers search online for products and services.
On Arran, an internet connection is also expected by the thousands of tourists that surge in during the holiday months when the population can swell from 5,000 to up to 25,000. Cafes or hotels that can offer their guests internet connections are at a great commercial advantage.
In a situation such as this, when cost and geography make cabled broadband or traditional wireless solutions difficult to deploy, TV white space (TVWS) offers an elegant and robust solution. TVWS are the frequencies made available following the switch-over from analogue to digital terrestrial television. TV broadcasters operate in this spectrum, but don’t use all of it all of the time, leaving spaces available for other users.
With the right technology, the white spaces in the TV band can be exploited to create two-way communications at high data rates over long distances, enabling connectivity where wired connections would be difficult. It can also offer good propagation, is not reliant on line-of-site, and can cover an expanse of tens of kilometres in diameter. TVWS is also good at penetrating obstacles, such as hillsides and trees.
Nominet has been at the forefront of TVWS technology from the start, exploring its potential as part of our work on dynamic spectrum management to identify and develop new, more innovative means of using and sharing the existing radio spectrum to support the growing demand on internet connectivity. From being the first company in the UK to qualify as a TVWS database operator, we are now applying this dynamic approach to spectrum to connectivity challenges in places like Arran.
In 2016, in collaboration with Broadway Partners, we used our TVWS expertise in the first commercial broadband roll out of its kind anywhere in Europe on the remote Scottish island. Arran households are now receiving internet connections of up to 25-35 Mbps, increasing the speed of existing connections and, more crucially, connecting some businesses and residences that have never previously been able to get online.
This is a significant step in the journey to ensuring equitable access to the internet. TVWS presents just one workable solution to the connectivity challenges faced by rural communities across the UK and beyond, and Nominet is currently working with Microsoft to use Dynamic Spectrum Management to help connect the African continent. We have also embarked on a pilot project to boost connectivity for residents of Llanarth, Monmouthshire.
And it doesn’t stop there. Experts predict that over 50 billion devices – such as smart household appliances – will be connected to the internet by 2020, all of which require spectrum space to operate. Spectrum is finite and, under the current allocation model, will be unable to cope with the predicted growth. Dynamic spectrum management will be part of the solution, supporting the evolution of internet devices that are set to become part of our everyday lives.
Over a tenth of the nation’s households don’t have a reliable internet connection. This could lead to digital exclusion – and a myriad of issues that come with that – if we don’t find new solutions to current connectivity problems. We need to ensure that businesses are not hindered or threatened by connectivity issues as we spring forwards towards a vibrant digital future, and an internet that benefits more people, in more ways, more of the time.
To find out more about Nominet’s work on TVWS and other ongoing R&D projects, visit www.nominet.uk/tvws
Nominet is a sponsor of Connected Britain in London on the 14-15 June 2017. Adam Leach will be speaking on day one of the conference on "Enhancing rural connectivity with TV white space and the role of dynamic spectrum management". To attend the conference, register here
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