South Africa is a country of vast contrasts, but there are few areas where this contrast is as starkly highlighted as the digital divide between urban and rural areas.
There have been numerous efforts to bridge this divide over the years, but it proved too difficult for network providers to extend their networks into these areas, some of which are only accessible on foot. With limited commercial value, these areas were neglected as operators focused their attention on more lucrative markets.
Without access to reasonable connectivity, these communities have been left to struggle, losing out on economic and educational opportunities, and unable to access government services without making long journeys to the nearest town.
Taking access for granted
Nicole Naidoo, Business Development Manager for ICCN at Axiz, explains that while those of us in urban areas take almost instant access to information for granted, this is not the case in the rural areas.
“Some areas have no cellular coverage at all, leaving them unable to even request medical assistance without going to find the nearest point at which they can connect to a mobile network. Students are unable to do research or access learning materials online, putting them at a permanent disadvantage and entrenching the economic divide between those with access to the Internet and those without.”
One of the critical issues holding back connectivity from reaching these areas is the availability of spectrum.
“To build a network that has the range to reach remote areas, you need to use relatively low frequencies, which allows for much greater coverage from a single transmitter,” explains Naidoo.
“These frequencies were being used for television signals, but as technology has advanced, it has become possible for television and broadband signals to share this real estate without causing interference.”
This involves taking advantage of the so-called television white spaces (TVWS), the buffers left between the television channels to ensure they don’t interfere with each other.
ICCN enables wide-reaching connectivity
“Our ICCN portfolio of TVWS products is uniquely positioned to enable this emerging market,” says Naidoo. “ICCN delivers a unique wireless LAN and wireless broadband solution that delivers long-distance, non-line of sight broadband capabilities.”
Trials of this technology have been ongoing for some time, but in April, the Independent Communications Authority of SA issued licences to several operators to begin the roll-out of TVWS networks.
With a dedicated focus on connecting those living in rural areas, these networks have the potential to deliver real change, allowing them to take control of their economic futures.
“As TVWS network reach more and more areas, I would expect that we will see the digital divide finally start to close and that is good news for the whole country,” concludes Naidoo.