Discussion Notes

An open discussion which included participation from the invited speakers and the audience was held in the afternoon of the Filling the White Spaces event. The aim of this discussion was to look at issues around getting White Space trials up and running in Ireland.

The discussion was framed around 6 main topics:

–          Identifying Application Areas / Case Studies
–          Building Partnerships
–          Obtaining necessary permissions
–          Building a white spaces database
–          Rolling out trials and doing analysis
–          Policy and Legislation

1)      Identifying Application Areas / Case Studies

The discussion was seeded with a slide that presented an array of possible applications:  Rural Broadband (from not-spots to connectivity), City super-hotspots, Cultural distribution nets, Local e-TV, Urban/Rural M2M, Backhaul studies, Cross Border Cooperation Studies, ‘Advanced’ database studies, Challenging the FCC/Ofcom rules studies, Maritime rings (ring of light houses around Ireland beaming coverage into the sea), Smart Bay, Emergency services – remote emergencies, Sharing Studies – stepping stone to the bigger picture, Enhanced mobile communications studies, Large area gaming / super-spot theatre, E-library / Publisher extraordinaire, Virtual Casino, Open Innovation Space – Hacker Space – creative commons.

The audience contributed more suggestions ranging from energy-saving  applications in the area of green/carbon neutral networking to experimental work relating to interference issues (aggregate interference) to hybrid databases (ones that make use of sensing as well as propagation models). Maritime and other applications were discussed.

The idea that whatever the application areas might be would be set in the context of Europe and used as a European showcase was also mentioned.

For Ireland one the key benefits of White Space networks would be more and better connectivity where there is already some poor broadband capacity. It was noted that White Space access should be seen as another channel or mode of connectivity which can be used in addition to other services. It was likened to widening an existing road to enable it to carry more traffic.

Rural broadband is seen as an easy sell. The Isle of Bute trials in Scotland were deemed to be very successful at addressing this persistent problem in low density/poor infrastructure areas As such White Space networks could also be about introducing real broadband connectivity where there is still none available.

Overall it seemed clear that if trials were to go ahead it would be likely to have a number of different trials – rural and urban and different applications.

Over the afternoon there was also discussion at different times about why would any entity use unlicensed spectrum to provide a service – why develop services and applications that depend on something that conceivably become too congested or go away? This question generated a lot of discussion.

The main feeling from those involved in white spaces was based around two ideas. Firstly it is a no-brainer for service providers who already have dedicated spectrum – unlicensed white spaces offer additional capacity/coverage – the extra lanes on the highway. Secondly and more importantly it was felt that a new way of thinking is needed.  In a more agile world of the future spectral resources will become increasingly shared – and the unlicensed TV white spaces can be seen as a stepping stone to the future and a way of preparing. In addition the framework of the database is also a signal to how things in the future may go – it is a kind of infrastructure for more technology neutral and service neutral approaches.

2)      Building Partnerships:

The discussion was seeded with a slide that presented  number of  possible partners that might help underpin a trial:Irish MNOs, Irish SMEs, RTE NL, Wider media interests, City Council /Other Councils IDA, EI, SFI (especially in the context of national testbed issues), Failte Ireland, Comreg, Dept of Communications, Irish Commissioners of Lights, Twinning – A small Irish community (or communities) could be twinned with Claudville or another US community, where white spaces has enabled broadband to be delivered for the first time, Cross-border partnerships, Universities / CTVR, the Guest speakers.

Trials can split into those that investigate new technologies and their applications or they can be used with already proven technologies to trial newer business cases. The use of TV White Space requires a number of partners to come together depending on the application in question. The main message coming from the speakers who had much experience of trials was to have as many stakeholders as possible involved in the trials.

Partners can have different levels of engagement, from public to private. Partners can contribute to a trial in terms of consultative support, monetary support, etc. Partners could be equipment vendors and developers. They could be cities or other entities that want to benefit from increased connectivity. Consequently there are a number of different ways in which partnerships could emerge.

For M2M applications the partnering of utilities companies with M2M specialists such as Neul is quite obvious.

For broadband trials it would be advantageous to partner cable/fiber operators with wireless expertise, i.e. a consortium of MAN operators and WISP operators may be best placed to investigate this application.

The Cambridge and Singapore trials indicate that it is possible to engage in competitive collaboration. While many of the likely players in the telecommunications filed are natural competitors, at this stage of exploration, validation and innovation collaborative partnerships offer a mechanism to lower the individual costs and risks. MoU templates for trial consortia are available.

The presence or absence of mobile network operators in trials was noted. No mobile operators engaged in the Cambridge trials in the UK.  Nor are there any mobile operators currently in the Singapore study. Shared spectrum access such as is present in TV White Spaces would be new for mobile operators – it represents a complete change from the exclusively licensed approach they exploit at present. However, mobile operators tend to have existing national footprints which would make the accessing and exploitation of TV White Space opportunities considerably easier. Furthermore, they obviously have the combined expertise of wired and wireless operations.

Regarding the funding of the trials  it was noted that the city of Wilmington, NC, funded its own network on the basis of an Return on Investment (ROI) analysis. Such positive returns may also be applicable to Irish towns or regions.

There was also some more general discussion on Ireland as a Testbed and the idea that we would use more than this opportunity to promote technical innovation and economic activity in this context.

3)      Obtaining necessary permissions

The spectrum regulator, Comreg, has an existing framework for conducting tests or trials of new technologies and services.  Groups such as CTVR, Intel, and Ericsson have already used this scheme for different purposes such as the trialling of WiMAX and TD-LTE.

Satisfying RTÉ-NL that there will be no interference from a test/trial is also necessary. However, it was observed that there are sufficient white space opportunities to keep well away from live multiplex signals.

Overall the feeling was clear – there is no impediment to get things up and going.

4)      Building a white spaces database

The discussion was seeded with a slide that set out a number of questions about the database: What kind of database? How easy is to ‘cut and paste’ from so existing solutions can be used? What developments are needed for longer term more futuristic databases? How willing are RTE NL to make the relevant information available? We are small (though broke) but can we do it quickly? Is there a crowd-sourcing option? Especially for PMSE? What advice do those who have been there already offer? Regulator dashboard? Portal?

The white spaces database is a core feature of the evolving/emerging regulatory regime for access to TV white spaces. It is seen as a safer way to introduce new, secondary technologies into a shared spectrum environment in a manner that allows for control over the new WS radios. This control ensures that the WS radios protect the services of the primary, incumbent systems. Essentially, such protection is achieved by making sure that the new radios do not interfere with DVB-T receivers already out in peoples’ homes. Furthermore, certain classes of wireless microphones are also protected devices.

While spectrum databases are in themselves a topic for much study and evaluation, Spectrum Bridge has a lot of experience in this area already. Given access to information about the Irish multiplexes (powers, locations, frequencies etc.), it is quite possible that an initial TV White Spaces database could be organised quickly. This would need to be validated for any area in which a trial would take place.  The Spectrum Bridge possibility offers a very firm way forward.

The notion of using emerging European rules, e.g. SE 43 recommendations, for the database as against FCC or Ofcom rules was also raised. This would give the Irish trials the advantage of leveraging and showcasing the rules which may end up being harmonised across Europe. As such, Ireland can demonstrate that it is a spectrum innovation playground in this area. This idea was seen as a very strong way forward.

Of course, there can be multiple such databases and each database could offer value-added services. But for the purposes of an initial test and trial period a conservative database that satisfies the regulator may suffice. And as mentioned earlier there are also possibilities within the trials to look at more advanced forms of database.

5)      Rolling out trials and doing analysis

The discussion was seeded with a slide that presented  number of  questions: Roll out where? What permissions needed? Locations – is there a partner who can help? How long does this take? Can our speakers give us indications? What might the barriers be? How easy is it to get enough equipment? Who in Ireland could contribute on the equipment side? How many people could be involved in a trial? How about application development? What constitutes good evidence? How are potential economic benefits determined? Competition versus coordination – perhaps our speakers have comments?

The audience commented on the importance of good planning in terms of any roll-out of trials. Protection of incumbents was stressed.

It was also stressed again that it would be good to focus both on rural and urban trials – again underpinning the fact it made sense for multiple different trials to take place with different partners involved.

The speakers provided some details on the numbers of nodes in the trails – typically ten sites for example in the Cambridge Trials.

It was noted that trials may be carried out publicly or privately, i.e. there is no compulsion on any group to publicise their work. However, in order to influence policy makers with a view to enacting the permanent statutory changes that would be necessary to support shared TV Band use it would be better to be seen to be trialling applications and to disseminate the results that follow.

Many of the invited speakers reiterated their interest in being involved in trials in Ireland.

6) Developing policies and legislating.

The discussion was seeded with a slide that presented a number of questions: How soon? Can we collectively make thing s happen? Are we really as small and agile as we say we are? Is this an opportunity to regulate in a way that allows things to evolve – proper technology and service neutral regulations?

There are no current plans to introduce permanent regulatory changes in this area. (However, the existence of Comreg’s test and trial scheme means there is no real impediment to getting tests/trials up and running.)

Also, there are moves afoot at the European level to progress with authorised shared access (ASA) licensing and the trend would seem to be towards increased sharing of spectrum. The licence-exempt exploitation of TV White Space represents one type of sharing. If framed correctly, regulations which support White Spaces, such as rules that support database-based secondary access to specrtum, could provide a path for different mixes of services/technologies to emerge and evolve with less regulatory intervention.

There was also some discussion about getting the message out there- to the decision-makers and wider public.  Some members of the audience pointed out the fact that there are good strong stories to be told and listed two areas – rural broadband and smart metering as two of particular relevance to Ireland at the moment.

If trials are to have any long-term purpose they could be used to inform future policy using evidence-based research – from both academic and commercial tests/trials. It was noted that a general consultation on the broad use of UHF spectrum is likely in the medium term. Experiences and results emanating from White Space trials would be well placed to feed into any consultations in this area with a view to influencing the formulation of new regulations.

However, the ability of Ireland to demonstrate agility in this area, i.e. to actually get trials up and running and to feed them back into the formulation of policy or attraction of FDI was questioned. As such, it was felt that words about innovation in this area should be turned in to swift action on innovation to prove our agility. Hence White Spaces Ireland.