White Space Pilot Network in Orkney (Phase 2)
In September 2015, the Scottish Government awarded a grant to the University of Strathclyde’s Centre for White Space Communications (CWSC) to deliver a TV White Space (TVWS) pilot in Orkney. The project built upon previous work to test and validate the use of White Space techniques for connecting extreme rural locations and to explore whether a similar solution may be used on a wider scale to support The Scottish Government’s world-class digital aspirations.
In many countries, including the UK, analogue television broadcasts have been, or are in the process of being, switched off and replaced by more spectrally efficient digital television transmissions, and the ‘white spaces’ that exist in the UHF TV band (470 MHz – 790 MHz in ITU Region 1) have good propagation and building penetration characteristics. This potentially makes them suitable for use in rural broadband applications, where transmission links may be several kilometres in length and may involve challenging terrain such as hills, foliage, and water.
A number of spectrum regulators, notably the US regulator (FCC) and the UK regulator (Ofcom), have made certain parts of the TV band available for use on a shared and licence-exempt basis. This represents an interesting and novel development in the management of spectrum, as it involves licence-exempt transmissions being interleaved with those of licensed users such as TV broadcasters.
This ‘dynamic shared access’ approach represents an entirely new way of managing spectrum, and has been embraced by Ofcom as part of its spectrum management strategy, not only for spectrum in the TV band but also for spectrum in other bands where appropriate. It is also widely recognized that dynamic spectrum access will form a key component of emerging 5G communication networks.
To deliver the project in Orkney, CWSC worked with a number of partners and suppliers, notably Cloudnet IT Solutions Ltd, an Orkney-based ISP who had prior experience of using White Space technology and who already had some wireless infrastructure (conventional microwave as well as some White Space) installed in Orkney.
The project was split into two distinct but related parts:
- Phase 2 Nomadic (P2N) – adding Wi Fi connectivity to three Orkney ferries so that passengers (and crew) will be able to obtain access to the Internet while journeying on the ferries.
- Phase 2 Extended (P2E) – the setting up of communications links to a small number of fixed land-based premises in remote, difficult-to-reach locations which are and beyond the scope of current intervention initiatives.
The ferries now have useful Internet connectivity that was hitherto non-existent, and many users (passengers and crew) have found this very useful. Residents in the fixed premises have also found the connectivity useful, some of them even being able to start their own on-line businesses from home, which was not possible prior to the connectivity provided by the project.
The costs associated with building and running a network (whether it uses wireless technologies or other technologies) are numerous and diverse, and the commercial viability of networks in remote rural locations is highly sensitive to those costs due to the low population densities that usually exist in such areas. Each project therefore requires its own careful planning and costing activities in order to gain advance indications of CapEx and Opex costs.
In summary, the Orkney TV White Space Pilot has successfully demonstrated the viability of using TV White Space radio equipment to enhance broadband coverage in hard-to-reach, remote locations, including not only fixed premises but also other ‘locations’ such as moving ferries. It has shown that TVWS has the potential to exceed the EC’s definition of superfast broadband (30 Mbit/s or more), and is therefore aligned with the Scottish Government’s commitment, under its ‘R100’ programme, to deliver superfast broadband access to 100% of premises in Scotland.
It is clear, therefore, that dynamic spectrum management will have an increasingly important role to play in the future management of spectrum, and we in Scotland are well-positioned to make a significant contribution to its development and deployment.
Did someone say Rural?
Building upon the Orkney TVWS pilot, the University of Strathclyde has driven the creation of a bid for Phase 1 of the DCMS 5G Testbeds & Trials programme, with a strong focus on rural connectivity. If the bid is successful, the project (titled ‘5G RuralFirst’) will be an end-to-end testbed system comprising rural 5G testbed locations across the UK in Orkney, Somerset and Newport (Shropshire), linked to a 5G edge facility near Glasgow which will be connected to, and will complement, the 5G cores in Bristol and Surrey.
The 5G RuralFirst project consortium, which is led by Cisco and includes the BBC, BT, Microsoft, Faroese Telecom, Orkney-based CloudNet IT Solutions, DataVita, the University of Edinburgh, Heriot Watt University, and others, firmly believes that 5G must be more than simply ‘better 4G’, otherwise rural communities will continue to remain poorly connected as the business models and barriers to deployment in remote locations will essentially be no different from those of 4G and 3G, which have failed may rural locations in the UK. The opportunity for 5G connectivity will thus be clearly driven by new technologies and access to usable spectrum. And for spectrum we see the critical opportunity for a rural offering of a blend of licensed, licence-exempt, and shared; hence with a particular focus on dynamic spectrum and rural coverage, we aim to design and build successful testbeds and trials in rural areas that are 5G – 5G RuralFirst!