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Singapore releases TV white space regulatory framework

A year after gathering industry feedback on the technology, ICT regulator IDA finalizes the country's regulatory framework for TV white space in a bid to drive commercial deployments and ease demand for more bandwidth.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Singapore has released its regulatory framework for TV white space (TVWS), effective from November, to facilitate the deployment of the technology and ease demand for more bandwidth amid a growing number of mobile and online users. 

Telecommunication regulators across the globe have been searching for new, efficient ways to allocate and utilize spectrum. This is essential with increasing demand for online and mobile communications, said Yaacob Ibrahim, Singapore's Minister for Communications and Information.

Speaking on Monday at this year's Ministerial Forum on ICT 2014, the minister said the number of online users worldwide was projected to reach almost 3 billion, while mobile broadband subscriptions will hit 2.3 billion by year-end. Citing further data from the International Telecommunication Union, Yaacob added that there will be 7 billion mobile cellular subscription by end-2014, making up 95.5 percent of the world's population. About half of this, or 3.6 billion mobile subscribers, will live in the Asia-Pacific region.

Singapore is already piloting TV white space in several commercial deployments including Gardens by the Bay and Singapore Island Country Club.

With more bandwidth necessary to support the growing demand for connectivity, Dynamic Spectrum Access (DSA) technology has emerged as one way to do so.

The minister explained that DSA is an efficient and optimized technique of using under-utilized frequency bands, by improving the way wireless devices access spectrum resources. In TV broadcast channels, for example, under-utilized spectrum resource--known as TV white spaces--can be used to extend bandwidth capacity for wireless devices.

To encourage the deployment and adoption of TVWS, Yaacob said the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) has released Singapore's regulatory framework for the technology, making the country one of only a handful in the world to do so, he said.

IDA had been assessing the technology since 2009 and started gathering industry feedback for the framework in June last year. It also set up the Singapore White Spaces Pilot Group (SWSPG) to help drive commercial trial deployments in the country, which included three projects in 2012 that involved National University of Singapore, Singapore Island Country Club, and near-shore Wi-Fi access for vessels.

Radio frequencies in the TVWS spectrum bands, typically in the 700-megahertz spectrum band for Singapore and other Asian markets, allows wide area outdoor wireless coverage, better building penetration, and potential for high-speed connectivity. The white space spectrum can range from 470 MHz to 786 MHz for other areas.

According to IDA, the new regulations took into account feedback it gathered from the industry. Effective from November, the regulatory framework specifies TVWS equipment requirements, spectrum channels made available for TVWS, and how such equipment should communicate with geo-location databases. 

With the regulatory specification now finalized, an estimated 180 MHz of spectrum is available for use in TVWS implementations, said Yaacob. This will support greater capacity and data connectivity for wireless broadband access, he said, adding that it also will encourage businesses and service providers to develop new wireless services and applications.

TVWS, also called Super Wi-Fi, can be deployed to enhance existing networks.

Yaacob said: "The [regulatory] framework will encourage and facilitate businesses and services providers to develop new wireless services and applications, or utilize TVWS to supplement and enhance their existing networks.

"Business applications may include machine-to-machine communications, smart metering and outdoor environment, and security monitoring services," he said, adding that consumers also can access more options of Wi-Fi services.

Ongoing TVWS pilots

The SWSPG last year began running a pilot at Gardens by the Bay, where TVWS was deployed to provide pervasive wireless access to visitors without the need for intrusive equipment and wiring at the park. Singapore's island resort Sentosa also implemented the technology to offer Wi-Fi coverage and deploy security surveillance cameras.

The Housing & Development Board (HDB) last year deployed TVWS to support video surveillance for rooftop security and carpark rules enforcement, as well as access real-time video from lift systems in HDB buildings. The use of real-time video recordings allows real-time video analytics and allow multiple departments to share the same surveillance resources. 

The new regulatory framework includes the use of "geo-location databases" to ensure TVWS applications won't interfere with TV broadcast signals. The databases will determine available channels for use before services and applications can be broadcast over those channels, according to IDA.

Organizations looking to build and maintain geo-location database services in Singapore are required to apply for a Service Based Operator (SBO) license, the ICT regulator said. This will allow IDA to ensure geo-location database operations adhere with the mandated technical parameters and regulatory requirements. To encourage deployment, the SBO license fees will be waived for the first two years, it said.

To further drive TVWS deployment, businesses keen to deploy or use the technology can do so without the need to apply for a license, However, they must comply with technical parameters and regulations laid out by IDA.

Manufacturers and suppliers of TVWS equipment must register such devices under an existing General Equipment Registration scheme stated by IDA, which is similar to that required for manufacturers and suppliers of handsets and communication devices. 

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