TVWS has continental potential

3rd May 2018

Natalie Wood

When it comes to internet connectivity, it would be easy to assume that Europe has adequate provision – not so. Despite there being more than 700 million internet users across the continent, almost ten million households lack access to an adequate fixed broadband service, not to mention tens of thousands of businesses labouring with slow or no connections. This is increasingly becoming unacceptable, as digital technology becomes increasingly integral to our society.

Nominet has been exploring the potential for TV white space (TVWS) technology to ease the connectivity issues within the UK as part of our focus on dynamic spectrum management, but a recent collaboration with Point Topic has enabled us to widen the view. Together, we have been able to identify not only the extent of the connectivity issues across Europe, but also understand where TVWS deployment could be possible and prove most effective.

Point Topic is a leading resource for worldwide broadband intelligence and has been researching broadband coverage in Europe for the past eight years on behalf of the European Commission. Nominet’s emerging technology team has expertise and experience in spectrum and real-life experience in the applicability of TVWS for boosting connectivity. Together, we have been able to review the potential across selected countries in Europe for TVWS to offer homes, businesses and IoT devices significant increase in bandwidth and choice for connectivity.

The report, Underserved Europe and the TVWS Opportunity, can be downloaded for a full review but the key takeaway is stark. A significant number of households and businesses across the continent currently struggle to access reasonable connection speeds, however, on the positive note many countries possess the spectrum capacity to deploy TVWS to boost broadband supply. There is opportunity, and it is one that should be seized.

We found that 4% of all European households and tens of thousands of business across the continent don’t have access to an adequate fixed broadband service. This varies significantly by country, with the highest proportion of households without access to broadband of at least 2Mbps being found in Poland (19%), Estonia (15%) and Slovakia (11%).

TVWS, a technology that uses the spectrum left vacant following the digital TV switchover, can only be used to deliver connections where countries have the available spectrum. This also varies by nation, and mapping availability in line with need has enabled us to clearly identify which nationals can be best served by TVWS deployment. For example, the Netherlands has below average capacity for TVWS but almost no one there is outside a fixed supply. Poland, on the other hand, has lots of capacity and many underserved people.

Clearly Poland could gain most by TVWS, but this is based on the current connection speeds that TVWS is able to deliver. The technology is developing, and trials are being conducted to explore how TVWS could deliver superfast speeds. When this becomes a reality, France stands to gain most by the deployment of TVWS, not to mention the over 40 million Europeans who currently sit outside the superfast footprint. The potential for change is enormous.

It’s easy to pontificate about spectrum usage and how TVWS can boost connectivity, but what is more crucial to appreciate is how this translates in reality. Internet connections allow businesses to thrive, underpin hospitals and schools, and facilitate communication and engagement for people and communities who might otherwise live in isolation. IoT devices and Smart city infrastructure will rely on good connections, and all of Europe needs to be able to access the benefits and possibilities that these future-looking technologies will provide.

Research and data gathering is the first step. We hope that the insight provided by the data in this report will be a catalyst for change in our approach, continent wide, to spectrum use and the wider range of technologies available for improving internet access. Thinking beyond fibre and other traditional approaches will enable Europe to begin to fill the blackspots that will otherwise hinder digital development. Now is the moment to give TVWS a chance to help.

Find out more about Nominet’s work on dynamic spectrum management.  

By Adam Leach, Director of Emerging Technology