TVWS and the Arram Project

A few days ago, myself and several other members of the EOB (Enemy of Boredom) Esports Academy were invited to the Oxford Headquarters of the domain registry giant, Nominet. As well as showing us the vital parts that its various departments and staff play in keeping the cogs of the internet turning, they also exhibited several of their off-shoot projects that they hope will change lives for the better not only in the UK, but across the globe.

Who are Nominet?

Founded in 1996, Nominet can only be described as the “Wardens of the Internet” in the UK. They monitor traffic, protect against cyber attacks and are responsible for keeping the .uk internet infrastructure running. As all websites with a .uk domain name fall under Nominet’s jurisdiction, all manner of problems are required by them to solve – with over 10 million uk domain names registered in 2015, this is no easy task. Everything from protecting websites, managing new .uk domain names registered through them all the way to solving legal disputes over domain names means Nominet always has it’s hands full. As the second largest “Top Level Domain” in the world, Nominet also makes a lot of money. As a non-profit organisation, much of this surplus money go towards the Nominet Trust, the companies charitable foundation. With this funding, the Nominet Trust pioneers to create new and innovative technologies that can potentially change lives. Many of these can have an effect on the other side of the world.

The use of TVWS (TV white space) is one of the many big projects that the Nominet Trust has undertaken. By using DSM (Dynamic Spectrum Management) to piggyback along disused TV analogue channels that have been abandoned after the digital switch-over, it can send broadband signals across several kilometers that can travel through solid objects and terrain, such as trees and structures. While not necessarily faster than WiFi, it certainly covers a far greater distance.

Nominet headquarters building in Oxford

So, why does this matter? The answer should be obvious

7.5 billion people do not have access to the internet – that’s 53% of the global population. There are many reasons for this, such as poverty and poor infrastructure, which results in the internet simply not being accessible for some parts of the world. That is not the case in the UK, with most of us being connected to the internet via WiFi. However, WiFi has very low distance coverage (100m at max range) and many rural locations do not have access to the short range transmitters used by modern tech such as smart phones. It is estimated that around 5% of the UK population does not have access to fast broadband internet. For a first world country that prides itself over it’s technological prowess, this is unacceptable.

% of people with internet access globally

Enter the Arran Project

The Arran Project (named after said island off the west coast of Scotland) aims to put TVWS to the test. With this particular island’s population not having access to fast internet, this innovative technology is going to change that. With a pair of ‘mast’ and ‘slave’ radio boxes, any home on Arran can then signal up to 10km away to a base station, such as a radio tower. The tower connects to the Nominet database over the internet gives the homeowner a list of available channels, many of which are left unused after the digital switch-over. Once a channel has been selected, the network is connected and good to go, offering impressive speeds of up to 30 MB/s. The technology is very simple and that works to it’s advantage. Enhanced indoor connectivity, line of sight not being required and impressive range makes connecting isolated pockets of the population a breeze. Not only that, but since it is free to use it is also much cheaper than WiFi!

How the TVWS system works

Granting TVWS to some of the poorest countries in the world

This technology also has global ramifications. With the success of the technology on the Isle of Arran and other parts of the UK, the project has undertaken a much more ambitious task – connecting Africa! Being a vast and mostly rural continent, Africa has the largest population of people not connected to the internet – almost 75% are missing out, as opposed to 20% in Europe. The Nominet Trust has been in contact with people in Mozambique, a country on the east coast of Africa the size of Britain and France combined. Connecting such a monolithic country – especially one with no real infrastructure in place – would be thought to be next to impossible. However, it should theoretically follow the same steps as what was used on the Isle of Arran. Base stations, such as radio towers, would have to be built, but very soon Mozambique (and perhaps much of Africa) could be benefiting from TVWS.

Click this line to learn how TVWS can be used to drastically improve communities in places such as Africa.

TVWS system being installed in Namibia

The future

Nominet are not alone in utlising this technology. Another prominet company making use of TVWS is Adaptrum, hailing themselves as the leader of TVWS wirless technology. They have achieved similar results to Nominet in the United States, and also have their eyes set on granting internet connectivity to third world countries and hard to reach locations. There is also Iconectiv, who have similar to visions to Nominet and have the tagline of “We imagine a world without boundaries”. Regardless, thanks to pioneers in the Arran Project and elsewhere, in a few decades it’s a real possibility that planet Earth could be fully connected to the internet for the first time…in the world. And who knows? Perhaps we will all switch from WiFi to TVWS in the future and reap the benefits that the technology brings!