Last week I was invited speaker at Africon 2015. My keynote talk was on the role of Dynamic/Flexible Spectrum and “Cognitive Radio” in the deployment of rural internet access using wireless technology. This sparked some interesting discussions in the panel I also participated in.
First of all, it is quite clear from e.g. the EU FP7 QUASAR project, that dynamic spectrum access is no technique that can magically create “new” spectrum out of thin air. Finding “unused” spectrum somewhere may definitely be possible, but its likely to be in a different place in every country or even every specific location. Is there supplier that can find sufficient economies of scale and produce low cost radios if the available bands are different in every country ? Dynamic spectrum can, however, be used to give new technologies fast access to new spectrum in a limited scale which is good to foster competition. Secondly, there is no real shortage of spectrum for internet access in rural areas as the traffic demand, per area unit, is low. There is already plenty of spectrum allocated for mobile data service with large volume, affordable terminal products (e.g. LTE) that easily could solve these problems. Here, however, a) most countries/regulators have been to lenient towards their cellular operators as they mostly not require rural coverage, or if the cellular operator actually has the coverage, b) the price charged is to high for most of the rural population to make the service attractive. The problem is therefore hardly a spectrum issue, its quite the normal techno-economic rural area problem – how much do we want to pay for maintaining the same service for a handful of users in the villages as for 10’s of thousands of users in the city. It applies literally to any physical infrastructure from fiber and wireless systems to electric power and sewage systems.