Enabling Affordable Internet Access with Dynamic Spectrum Management and Software Defined Radio

Lead Research Organisation: University of Strathclyde
Department Name: Electronic and Electrical Engineering

Abstract

This project aims to investigate how the use of dynamic spectrum access (DSA) management and geo-location database technology, combined with software defined radio (SDR) implementations may be used to enable effective and efficient wireless networks to be built at scale in developing countries in order to support affordable Internet access using the shared spectrum resource. The project will seek to evolve DSA methods and techniques to generally improve this type of spectrum sharing service, and hence these improvements in the UK, will be fully shared and supported by our international ODA partners. The project will be led by the University of Strathclyde's Centre for White Space Communications (CWSC), working with international ODA university partners in Kenya, Zambia, Ghana & Malawi (further engaging with partners in their countries - both industry and regulators). There will also be support and input from a number of key industry partners including dynamic spectrum access database and cloud services partners: Nominet and Microsoft, production white space/DSP radio vendors, Adaptrum and 6Harmonics; UK SME internet service providers (ISPs) partners Cloudnet and Broadway Partners; and communication/ SDR software support from MathWorks, and FPGA hardware vendors Xilinx. All of the relationships and partners in this proposal are already pre-existing, trusted and in some cases very long term relationships, including previous and active Strathclyde links to partners in all four African countries. Figure 1 below illustrates the partners in this project.

CWSC and its collaborating partners have considerable expertise and experience in DSA management, and were instrumental in helping Ofcom as it progressed towards putting regulations in place for dynamic use of White Space spectrum in the TV band - regulations which went 'live' on 31st December 2015. The project will build upon previous work that has taken place in the four overseas countries, and will ultimately lead to benefits in the form of improved routes towards digital inclusion in those countries, and we anticipate followed later by 'ripple effect' to neighbouring or regional countries.

Planned Impact

(1) Who might benefit from this research?

The beneficiaries of this research will primarily be individuals, companies, and organisations in the African countries of Malawi, Kenya, Zambia, and Ghana. These countries currently have low levels of access to the internet (the lowest is Malawi which has around 6% penetration, according to published statistics for 2016). This project aims to enable low cost, widely available wireless internet access through research into Dynamic Spectrum Access (DSA) and Software Defined Radio (SDR), including trial deployments.

Although the direct impact of the research will be in the named countries, the outcomes of the project could be exploited more widely via a roll-out to other African nations, and potentially also other developing nations further afield. Furthermore, secondary benefits can be enjoyed in the UK, by applying the lessons learned in DSA and SDR development in Africa, to networks for deployment in the UK.

(2) How might they benefit from this research?

The primary beneficiaries of the research, in developing countries in Africa, would enjoy considerable benefits from gaining affordable access to the internet using DSA techniques. They would be able to access the many internet-based services and sources of information that the developed world takes for granted, including practical information and advice about agriculture and health, business communications like email and online banking, government services, access to educational materials and scholarship, and generally the opportunity to be better connected to the rest of the world. The specific benefit of DSA is that fallow spectrum can be exploited, which would keep access speeds high and prices low.
 
Description The project is progressing well with work at Strathclyde and engagement with partner Universities in African country partners. Additionally we now have discussion and engagement with regulators in partner countries (MACRA in Malawi, ZICTA in Zambia, CAK in Kenya, and NCA in Ghana). We have trusted and close relationships with engineers and researchers at other partners, and in Dec 2018 ran a workshop at Strathclyde to further engage and partner forward. As part of this workshop we were able to share technologies, and indeed share some hardware for partners to use in their labs in their respective countries.

All four African partner countries (Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, and Zambia) have high proportions of their populations living in rural areas, and connectivity is generally low. Governments and regulators recognize this and are generally aware of the issues that it causes. To one degree or another, they have all explored options such as wireless technology and the use of TV White Space spectrum. Some have reached the point of having created draft regulations, but have not yet put them in place, however as above we are now in direct and supportive discussion on this. Others are still exploring options and are considering their next steps.
Exploitation Route The project is helping to support policy decisions at national level as well as the development of commercially viable implementation and deployment solutions. in the past 12 months our related work on 5G projects with Cisco and other new partners, we have made considerable progress in being able to roll-out private LTE dynamic shared spectrum networks. Its of note that the 'rural' connectivity problems in African partner countries, is largely the same as in UK or other developed countries. In rural, there is no backhaul, no business models, and often no power! However as we are demonstrating engineering, support from regulators, can circumvent this and bring people on-line. Our Kenya industry partner, Mawingu.org is demonstrating considerable success in bringing people on-line with a mix of TVWS, Wifi, and various backhauls, including satellite in some locations. We have received enquiries from other countries (Nigeria, Mozambique) looking to engage, and currently we are in various levels of discussion with DFID on future support for deployment and further work.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Energy,Environment,Healthcare

 
Description Our GCRF partners are working and engaging directly with Communications Regulators in their own countries. Most notable in Kenya, CAK (Communications Authoirty Kenya) are now formally working on TVWS regulations. They have a formal Mou with our partner Strathmore University (in Kenya) to engage and collaborate forward on bring TVWS and databases to the Kenya market. We have also had discussions with ZICTA in Zambia who have made a formal link to Copperbelt University and in direct converation with Strathlclyde University also, on managing rules and regulations for dynamic spectrum access using TV WhiteSpace and other bands. Similary for Ghana (NCA) and MACRA (Malawi) our project partners in both countries have strong dialog with regulators. In summer 2019 we intend a workshop and demonstration session in the UK for partners and regulators on software defined radio (SDR) and dynamic spectrum access for accessible internet access.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Advising national telecommunications regulators in our partner countries (Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, and Zambia)
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description DCMS 5G Testbeds & Trials
Amount £4,300,000 (GBP)
Funding ID DCMS 5GT&T 
Organisation Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2018 
End 03/2019
 
Description Academia, industry, and government collaboration in Africa 
Organisation Copperbelt University
Country Zambia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The project hinges on collaboration amongst several partners from academia, industry, and government. Collaborations with industry partners are ongoing, particularly with Nominet (UK), Mathworks (UK), and Xilinx (US), in order to address the various challenges that exist in connecting remote, rural communities.
Collaborator Contribution Our African academic partners - the University of Ghana (Ghana), Strathmore University (Kenya), Chancellor College (Malawi), and the Copperbelt University (Zambia) - have been working with the lead partner, the University of Strathclyde (UK), to engage with their respective national telecommunications regulators, and they have been conducting status surveys in their respective countries, which have helped to provide a clearer picture of connectivity within each country and the extent to which new techniques such as dynamic management of spectrum in the TV band are being considered by regulators and local telecommunications providers.
Impact These collaborative relationships are working well and we expect them to continue to strengthen as the project progresses. We have also been approached by a number regulators from other countries in Africa, requesting participation in the project, and we expect to report further on those in due course.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Academia, industry, and government collaboration in Africa 
Organisation Nominet Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The project hinges on collaboration amongst several partners from academia, industry, and government. Collaborations with industry partners are ongoing, particularly with Nominet (UK), Mathworks (UK), and Xilinx (US), in order to address the various challenges that exist in connecting remote, rural communities.
Collaborator Contribution Our African academic partners - the University of Ghana (Ghana), Strathmore University (Kenya), Chancellor College (Malawi), and the Copperbelt University (Zambia) - have been working with the lead partner, the University of Strathclyde (UK), to engage with their respective national telecommunications regulators, and they have been conducting status surveys in their respective countries, which have helped to provide a clearer picture of connectivity within each country and the extent to which new techniques such as dynamic management of spectrum in the TV band are being considered by regulators and local telecommunications providers.
Impact These collaborative relationships are working well and we expect them to continue to strengthen as the project progresses. We have also been approached by a number regulators from other countries in Africa, requesting participation in the project, and we expect to report further on those in due course.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Academia, industry, and government collaboration in Africa 
Organisation Strathmore University
Country Kenya 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The project hinges on collaboration amongst several partners from academia, industry, and government. Collaborations with industry partners are ongoing, particularly with Nominet (UK), Mathworks (UK), and Xilinx (US), in order to address the various challenges that exist in connecting remote, rural communities.
Collaborator Contribution Our African academic partners - the University of Ghana (Ghana), Strathmore University (Kenya), Chancellor College (Malawi), and the Copperbelt University (Zambia) - have been working with the lead partner, the University of Strathclyde (UK), to engage with their respective national telecommunications regulators, and they have been conducting status surveys in their respective countries, which have helped to provide a clearer picture of connectivity within each country and the extent to which new techniques such as dynamic management of spectrum in the TV band are being considered by regulators and local telecommunications providers.
Impact These collaborative relationships are working well and we expect them to continue to strengthen as the project progresses. We have also been approached by a number regulators from other countries in Africa, requesting participation in the project, and we expect to report further on those in due course.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Academia, industry, and government collaboration in Africa 
Organisation The Mathworks Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The project hinges on collaboration amongst several partners from academia, industry, and government. Collaborations with industry partners are ongoing, particularly with Nominet (UK), Mathworks (UK), and Xilinx (US), in order to address the various challenges that exist in connecting remote, rural communities.
Collaborator Contribution Our African academic partners - the University of Ghana (Ghana), Strathmore University (Kenya), Chancellor College (Malawi), and the Copperbelt University (Zambia) - have been working with the lead partner, the University of Strathclyde (UK), to engage with their respective national telecommunications regulators, and they have been conducting status surveys in their respective countries, which have helped to provide a clearer picture of connectivity within each country and the extent to which new techniques such as dynamic management of spectrum in the TV band are being considered by regulators and local telecommunications providers.
Impact These collaborative relationships are working well and we expect them to continue to strengthen as the project progresses. We have also been approached by a number regulators from other countries in Africa, requesting participation in the project, and we expect to report further on those in due course.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Academia, industry, and government collaboration in Africa 
Organisation University of Ghana
Country Ghana 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The project hinges on collaboration amongst several partners from academia, industry, and government. Collaborations with industry partners are ongoing, particularly with Nominet (UK), Mathworks (UK), and Xilinx (US), in order to address the various challenges that exist in connecting remote, rural communities.
Collaborator Contribution Our African academic partners - the University of Ghana (Ghana), Strathmore University (Kenya), Chancellor College (Malawi), and the Copperbelt University (Zambia) - have been working with the lead partner, the University of Strathclyde (UK), to engage with their respective national telecommunications regulators, and they have been conducting status surveys in their respective countries, which have helped to provide a clearer picture of connectivity within each country and the extent to which new techniques such as dynamic management of spectrum in the TV band are being considered by regulators and local telecommunications providers.
Impact These collaborative relationships are working well and we expect them to continue to strengthen as the project progresses. We have also been approached by a number regulators from other countries in Africa, requesting participation in the project, and we expect to report further on those in due course.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Academia, industry, and government collaboration in Africa 
Organisation University of Malawi
Country Malawi 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The project hinges on collaboration amongst several partners from academia, industry, and government. Collaborations with industry partners are ongoing, particularly with Nominet (UK), Mathworks (UK), and Xilinx (US), in order to address the various challenges that exist in connecting remote, rural communities.
Collaborator Contribution Our African academic partners - the University of Ghana (Ghana), Strathmore University (Kenya), Chancellor College (Malawi), and the Copperbelt University (Zambia) - have been working with the lead partner, the University of Strathclyde (UK), to engage with their respective national telecommunications regulators, and they have been conducting status surveys in their respective countries, which have helped to provide a clearer picture of connectivity within each country and the extent to which new techniques such as dynamic management of spectrum in the TV band are being considered by regulators and local telecommunications providers.
Impact These collaborative relationships are working well and we expect them to continue to strengthen as the project progresses. We have also been approached by a number regulators from other countries in Africa, requesting participation in the project, and we expect to report further on those in due course.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Academia, industry, and government collaboration in Africa 
Organisation Xilinx Corp
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The project hinges on collaboration amongst several partners from academia, industry, and government. Collaborations with industry partners are ongoing, particularly with Nominet (UK), Mathworks (UK), and Xilinx (US), in order to address the various challenges that exist in connecting remote, rural communities.
Collaborator Contribution Our African academic partners - the University of Ghana (Ghana), Strathmore University (Kenya), Chancellor College (Malawi), and the Copperbelt University (Zambia) - have been working with the lead partner, the University of Strathclyde (UK), to engage with their respective national telecommunications regulators, and they have been conducting status surveys in their respective countries, which have helped to provide a clearer picture of connectivity within each country and the extent to which new techniques such as dynamic management of spectrum in the TV band are being considered by regulators and local telecommunications providers.
Impact These collaborative relationships are working well and we expect them to continue to strengthen as the project progresses. We have also been approached by a number regulators from other countries in Africa, requesting participation in the project, and we expect to report further on those in due course.
Start Year 2017
 
Title Prviate LTE in TV White Space 
Description We have researched and developed full private LTE networks running in TV White Space (TVWS) frequencies (470MHz to 790MHz). This means that we can set up private LTE networks in TVWS/UHF shared frequency bands. Simliar to UK our African partner have the same spectrum issues, i.e. spectrum is not licensed for use, and sharing not an established method (other than unlicenced, such as Wifi). Another key requirement for an new mobile/LTE network is devices or UEs (User Equipment) being available. Using strategic bands we have been able to show dynamic spectrum access with equipment sourced from countries using the TVWS for commercial deployment in the UK. As our African partners are adopting similar TVWS rules, this private LTE opportunity becomes available to them also and has been shared via a knowledge transfer partner conference/meeting in Dec 2018. 
Type Of Technology Physical Model/Kit 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact First UK implementation of private LTE using shared spectrum, and opportunity to share and knowledge transfer with our GCRF partners. Technical papers have been submitted and awaiting reviews. 
 
Description Engagement with Ofcom and African Regulators 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact We have been engaging in various levels of discussion with Ofcom around 'shared spectrum' over a number of years; shared spectrum is the key driver of our GCRF project to enable affordable internet access. Via our efforts on this project in 2018 we have had meetings with Head of Spectrum Policy, and legal counsel at Ofcom, alongside other partners (Telint) to share our view and experience of shared spectrum strategies in the UK and introduced our endeavour in Africa with our GCRF partners. One key driver of our GCRF project is that in our four partner countries, the communications regulators in the locations (ZICTA in Zambia, MACRA in Malawi, CAK in Kenya and NCA in Ghana) often view the lead from Ofcom on policy and strategy. Ofcom has announced 4 major consultations on shared spectrum (closed 12th March 2019), and we have shared these with partners and African partner regulators as possible blueprints for managing shared spectrum in their countries. In Dec 2018 CAK in Kenya formally signed an MoU on TVWS shared spectrum with Strathmore, our Kenya academic partner, to formally explore the set of TVWS shared spectrum. Further via our partner/supporter, Microsoft, another Strathclyde partner, Fairspectrum is now engaging directly with Microsoft to support CAK in set up of a dynamic spectrum access database. We ran a workshop for all GCRF partners in Dec 2018, and invited representatives from all four regulators (MACRA, ZICTA, CAK and NCA) - all four engaged and participated in the event. A larger more targetted workshop with Ofcom invited is planned now for summer 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Engaging with the national telecommunications regulator in each of the four partner countries (Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The engagement activities referred to here relate to engagements with the national telecommunications regulator in each of our four partner countries (Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia). This has involved significant effort on the part of all academic partners in the project, with the result that the regulators' understanding and interest in the project have been steadily increasing, along with their desire to be actively involved in the project and to learn more about the benefits and deployment challenges associated with dynamic spectrum access.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017