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Super Wi-Fi likely to see success first in Asia

Region has most potential due to rich media and smart devices penetration, but many hurdles still need to be overcome before technology fulfills potential.
Written by Ryan Huang, Contributor

With an impending spectrum crunch, telcos are expected to increasingly look toward Super Wi-Fi to not only deliver current offerings but also target new services and markets. What's more, the technology is likely to see most success in Asia with the region's robust adoption of rich media and smartphone penetration rates.

Super Wi-Fi, or TV White Spaces (TVWS), refers to unused radio spectrum in TV broadcast bands, typically at 700MHz, which can be used as an alternative wireless platform to deliver commercial services.

"Super Wi-Fi isn't really Wi-Fi and doesn't, yet, use Wi-Fi protocols but most assume that it will at some point. Also, this is a technology that is used to 'tap into' the available frequencies in the TV band in which there is a lot of extra spectrum but it requires an intelligent network to use it," pointed out Gerry Purdy, principal analyst at Mobiletrax.

It is an important topic because bandwidth consumption from the growth of smartphones has outpaced the ability of network providers to expand their supply of spectrum, noted Purdy.

Agreeing, Oh Ser Wah, co-chairman of the Singapore White Spaces Pilot Group (SWSPG), pointed out the benefits of super Wi-Fi include its ability to travel over longer distances, penetrate through more obstacles and tough terrain than higher frequencies, and requiring less power.

By using the range and penetration benefits, coupled with potentially abundant bandwidth, TVWS could offer services that 3G and Wi-Fi find difficult to offer currently, according to Oh.

Super Wi-Fi benefits
One example is wireless surveillance, where TVWS is better suited given that it does not face issues such as quality degradation faced by 3G during network congestion or the distance limitations that hamper Wi-Fi, said the executive.

Oh added white spaces can also help reduce network costs significantly. For example in long-range communications, such as for rural areas or maritime, it may not be economically viable to deliver the service via 3G since the engineering cost involved to set up such a system may not justify the investment.

The low frequency's better penetration capabilities can also be used within homes to plug the holes faced by fixed line fiber networks.

"Although homes may have high speed connections now, it cannot be distributed efficiently within the home due to a lack of technologies that have good penetration. White spaces could bridge this gap," said Oh.

He added there is also a potential market in smart grid communications. The SWSPG Group has so far deployed three commercial pilots on the technology in Singapore, including one for smart grid.

Asia potential the highest
Purdy said while the use of TVWS started in the United States. Asia will likely see the largest rollout over time due to its propensity to adopt rich media and consumers preferring to use smartphones and tablets instead of a TV.

Singapore telco M1, for one, is closely monitoring the progress of the technology but noted its potential was very much dependent on the development of the ecosystem which supports it.

"This ranges from the chips, device and infrastructure manufacturers, to industry agreement on the standards," said a company spokesperson.

Concurring, Oh said it is not the technology, application or regulations that would singlehandedly decide the success of Super Wi-Fi. Rather, it would be the whole ecosystem that will determine its acceptance.

"Telcos alone would not want to push the technology without garnering interest from the regulators and offerings from technology providers." -Oh Ser Wah, co-chairman of the Singapore White Spaces Pilot Group

He pointed out Singapore regulators have been supporting the push for Super Wi-Fi, and Japan has also seen limited commercial Super Wi-Fi deployment. Other parts of Asia such as the Philippines and South Korea are also seeing some activities.

The potential issues that will hold back progress include resistance from the incumbents, lack of equipment due to tight regulatory requirements and alternative technologies competing for the spectrum, pointed out Oh. The latter include long-term evolution (LTE), which is now starting to be rolled out by operators worldwide.

Purdy noted current devices and networks would need to also have added intelligence in them before adoption starts to accelerate.

"The network has to sniff out and see if any public microphones are being used and then not interfere with them. We’ll see some interesting trials in 2013 but I have been saying that true widespread use is 5 or more years away," he said.

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