TV white spaces in South Africa is now ready for lift-off

One of the last big hurdles in the way of the rapid commercial deployment of television white spaces (TVWS) Internet access technology in South Africa has fallen.

Communications regulator Icasa has this week published a notice inviting interested parties to participate in a qualification process to operate a secondary geolocation spectrum database, or S-GLSD, an important function to prevent signal interference with television broadcasters.

Until now, the CSIR has provided crucial geolocation database services to the nascent industry, but it now plans to white-label its solution rather than offering it directly to operators, TechCentral understands. The Icasa invitation to apply now opens the door to other commercial secondary database operators to enter the market.

The primary geolocation database, which includes key information about what spectrum is used in which parts of the country, was also developed by the CSIR, on behalf of Icasa, and this database is now being handed over to the telecommunications regulator.

TVWS technology uses the gaps, known as “white spaces”, between terrestrial television broadcasts – the static one sees when tuning an analogue TV – to offer Internet services. Successful trials of the technology have focused on outlying areas in Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and elsewhere to test the technology as a suitable means of providing Internet access at prices well below mobile data fees.

Investment warning

Icasa’s invitation to apply comes after industry players last year warned that delays in the implementation of regulations had the potential to cost South Africa billions of rand in potential investment. In July 2020, the Black IT Forum even threatened to drag Icasa to court if it did not get a move on with commercialising TVWS.

South Africa was an early pioneer in testing TVWS technology, with successful pilot projects that enjoyed the backing of companies such as Google and Microsoft. Icasa was also a pioneer in Africa in developing the necessary regulations to govern the industry.

Icasa’s TVWS regulations will come into full commercial effect on 1 April. Unlike many other commercial telecoms operators, prospective TVWS players will not need to apply to Icasa for a licence but must use Icasa type-approved hardware in their networks and conform to the certification that the hardware will work with the geolocation database provided by the successful S-GLSD applicants.

Icasa hit out at its critics last July, saying its annual performance plan only required it to complete the process of fully introducing the TVWS technology and regulations by 31 March 2021.

“Icasa has been proactive in making this technology available, even though the regulatory framework has not yet been finalised,” Icasa spokesman Paseka Maleka said at the time. He said Icasa regarded TVWS as an important complementary technology for South Africa, one which had the potential to enable affordable broadband.

“Icasa has previously stated and maintains that the regulatory framework designed for dynamic spectrum assignment and opportunistic spectrum management is in the best interests of South Africa’s digital future. The regulations are critical in facilitating universal access to broadband, particularly in rural and underserviced areas.


“On 5 June 2020, the authority published a framework to qualify to operate the S-GLSD for the purposes of providing for a qualification framework for interested entities to operate as S-GLSD service providers. The reason the regulations are not yet in force is because the authority has not qualified any S-GLSD providers.

“Icasa is committed to providing a sound and certain TVWS regulatory framework to expand broadband Internet services in South Africa. It is therefore disingenuous to suggest that Icasa is delaying the roll-out of TVWS technologies without a clearer understanding of the regulatory environment. If anything, Icasa has actively pursued and promoted this technology. It is important to note that Icasa is required to operate within the confines of the applicable legislative framework and has embarked on a fair and transparent process for purposes of the speedy implementation of TVWS technology.”  — © 2021 NewsCentral Media