While pervasive and hidden at the same time, unused TV frequency waves, or ‘white spaces’, are being unlocked in Singapore to provide possibly cheaper, more efficient, and ubiquitous wireless Internet access.
Leading this initiative is the Singapore White Spaces Pilot Group, founded by Microsoft, UK wireless service provider Neul, Singapore telco StarHub, and Singapore government research agency I2R. Rival telcos SingTel and M1 are absent from the private-public group.
A pilot trial has been conducted at the Singapore Island Country Club, which is surrounded by hills, a lake, dense vegetation, and tall trees, making it a challenging natural terrain for wireless providers.
White spaces have been supplying an internet connection to members at four club locations and a golf course. The next stage involves facilitating the Internet of Things. That calls for installing sensors to regulate lighting, detecting moisture levels on the greens, tracking golf carts, and gauging the fill level of litter bins.
At a press conference held today, four more pilot trials were announced. Wifi access is already available at Gardens by the Bay, while installation works are underway to enable Internet connectivity at Sentosa.
The Housing Development Board, Singapore’s pubic housing agency, wants to use the technology to enable real-time video surveillance in housing estates and car parks, while Eurokars, a car dealer, will be enabling test-drive vehicle tracking.
Microsoft has helped to kickstart similar initiatives in the United States and UK, and in the case of Singapore, it is providing a database of white space spectrums — not unlike the one deployed by Google.
White space technology is meant to complement existing wifi and 3G networks, providing internet access to blindspots and hard-to-reach areas.
It is relatively less expensive since it travels greater distances — 10km at high power or 3km at low power — requiring less installations of equipment. Wifi, on the other hand, reaches 200m tops. White space technology is also better at penetrating objects like walls, thereby reducing the need for line-of-sight coverage.
The goal of these pilot trials is to demonstrate commercial viability. Singapore has been involved in R&D for white space technology since 2006 and starting its first trial in 2009. The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore will be launching a public consultation by Q3 2013.
What could facilitate mass adoption is the fact that consumers do not need to purchase new devices to make use of the technology — they can connect to it just like regular wifi. That is unlike NFC, another heavily-support and highly touted technology that is useful only if consumers have an NFC-enabled phone.
The founding members of the Pilot Group are also part of the Dynamic Spectrum Alliance, a global group spanning software, hardware, networking and media sectors. DSA will promote regulations that facilitate white space technology and act as a go-between with various organizations to advocate its usage.
Due to its range and low cost, white spaces has been touted for its potential to provide cheap Internet access to millions in emerging markets who currently lack such benefits.
Internet giants Google and Microsoft are at the forefront since it gives them an opportunity to promote their suite of internet products to first-time users.
In March this year, Google launched a trial in Cape Town, South Africa that is bringing connectivity to schools. Microsoft, meanwhile, is working with Kenyan and Tanzanian authorities to bring cheap wireless internet to the masses.
White spaces could also solve the problem of internet traffic congestion in developed markets.
But with new use cases arising from machine-to-machine communications and an expected explosion of Internet-connected devices, predicted to rise three-fold to 24 billion by 2020, there is no telling if adding white space technology into the mix will be enough to cater to future demand.