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TV white spaces on trial

ICASA has approved plans by telecoms start-up AfriCanopy to roll out high-speed low-cost broadband to residents of the King Cetshwayo municipality in KwaZulu-Natal.

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The trial of AfriCanopy’s new telecoms technology, which is scheduled to last eight months, is expected to provide high-speed low-cost broadband coverage for up to 85 000 King Cetshwayo municipality residents, while providing free internet access to 50 rural schools across the region.

AfriCanopy also promises the creation of 400 new jobs in the region as aspiring local entrepreneurs will be equipped with ‘Business-in-a-Box’ kits that include solar power supplies, Wi-Fi devices and television white space (TVWS) equipment. This will enable them to sell airtime, data and cellular charging services to customers at much lower prices than are currently available.

AfriCanopy will provide this new cohort of telecoms entrepreneurs with all the technical and business training needed to run these businesses, in the hope that they will contribute to the economic wellbeing of the wider municipality. If successful, this new technology could then be rolled out in other internet-starved rural areas across South Africa.

This is the first time that ICASA has authorised a company to begin a commercial trial with television white space devices. The unique selling point of TVWS is that it uses those portions of the UHF terrestrial television spectrum that are not used by broadcasters, and they can be repurposed to transmit voice and data cheaper, and over greater distances than cellular frequencies.

Not only does AfriCanopy’s technology make more efficient use of available spectrum, it also poses no threat of interference to existing broadcasters. Moreover, TVWS also has better in-building penetration than is currently available with regular cellular frequencies.

AfriCanopy hopes to raise R32-million to fund the programme. The AfriCanopy team is currently conducting negotiations with both private and public backers.

“We are delighted by the ICASA decision, and look forward to pioneering the provision of high-speed, low-cost broadband services to our rural communities,” said Samora Xorile, AfriCanopy’s founder. “We believe that broadband coverage should be available to everyone in South Africa – including previously excluded rural communities.”

AfriCanopy plans to begin the trial of its telecoms technology in the King Cetshwayo municipality after securing funding. It estimates that it will be able to do so by the first quarter of 2019.

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