Sharing spectrum at the ZSL London Zoo

Live video of meerkats, Asian otters and giant Galapagos tortoises from the world’s oldest zoo are coming to YouTube. The world loves to watch cute animal videos. This time, it’s also worth looking at the technology behind the videos.

Today, Google and ZSL London Zoo, opened on April 28, 1827, are launching a trial to test an innovative way of sharing spectrum to power these live video feeds. MediaTek and 6Harmonics are supplying the Wi-Fi equipment and devices being using during the trial.

Radio spectrum is a scarce resource. It is required every time we make a mobile phone call, use Wi-Fi, or listen to the radio. Spectrum is divided into different frequency bands to avoid interference between, say, a radio station and a mobile phone call. As more people go online and the number of wireless devices grows, so does the demand for spectrum.

Within the spectrum used for broadcast TV, there are unused parts which are commonly known as ‘TV White Spaces’ (or TVWS for short). This spectrum is helpful because it can travel longer distances and through physical barriers, providing wireless connectivity in places where other technology can’t — including the centre of one of the busiest cities in the world, in spots where the zoo would have normally needed a wired connection.

Because spectrum is scarce, policymakers and technology companies have been working on guidelines to help allow the shared use of White Spaces. Sharing spectrum in this way could open up many new opportunities for wireless innovation.

The UK is quickly becoming a pioneer of spectrum sharing, thanks to favorable regulation from Ofcom, which is responsible for managing spectrum. This is the first time that Google’s spectrum database is being used in the UK after being certified last year in the US. The database ensures that TVWS can be shared by multiple users without interference — one of the top goals of this trial. These contributions, in addition to the use of new devices that use standard Wi-Fi protocols, show that TVWS technology is gaining momentum around the world.

After testing the technology, the London Zoo is exploring other ways it can use TVWS to help monitor and protect endangered animals in the wild. Last year, the zoo won a Google Global Impact Award to help develop the Instant Wild system, which uses satellite cameras to provide instant alerts to rangers to help tackle the poaching of rhinos and elephants. We’re delighted that this trial can help power such innovations, bringing wireless connectivity to places where other options won’t work.

Posted by Theo Bertram, European Policy Strategy Team
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Improving Internet access in Africa with ‘White Spaces’

White spaces are unused channels in the broadcast TV spectrum. They offer the potential to improve Internet connectivity where they are most needed – in the developing world. This week, we announced the launch of a trial with ten schools in the Cape Town area, which will receive wireless broadband over a white space network.

White space has the advantage that low frequency signals can travel longer distances. The technology is well suited to provide low cost connectivity to rural communities with poor telecommunications infrastructure, and for expanding coverage of wireless broadband in densely populated urban areas.

Google supported its first white space trial in the US in 2010, and Google.org recently launched its spectrum database for 45 day public comment period with the FCC. In October 2011, we hosted a workshop in Johannesburg, along with partners, at which the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) lent support for an industry-led white spaces trial in South Africa. We then worked together with the CSIR Meraka Institute, Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa, e-Schools Network, the Wireless Access Providers’ Association, Comsol Wireless Solutions, Carlson Wireless, and Neul to take up the challenge.

The service will be broadcast from three base stations located at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences in Tygerberg, Cape Town. Ten schools in the Cape Town area will receive wireless broadband to test the technology. During the trial, we will attempt to show that broadband can be offered over white spaces without interfering with licensed spectrum holders. To prevent interference with other channels, the network uses Google’s spectrum database to determine white space availability. To confirm results, the CSIR Meraka Institute will take spectrum measurements and frequently report back to ICASA and the local broadcasters.


White Space technology is gaining momentum around the world. In the US, it is already available for licensed exempt uses. In the UK, regulator Ofcom is working on a model regulatory framework based on a licence-exempt or ‘managed access’ use of television white spaces spectrum. We hope the results of the trial will drive similar regulatory developments in South Africa and other African countries.

To read more about the trial background, please visit TENET’s website.

Posted by Fortune Mgwili-Sibanda, Public Policy Manager, Google South Africa
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