Guest Blog: TV White Space a Game Changer in Rural Connectivity

The UK’s reputation as a digital leader is a driving force behind our economy and a big contributor to our vibrant society. Great connectivity – fast, reliable, and widespread internet access – is crucial in enabling this. Yet 11% of UK households still don’t have internet access. And pointing helplessly to the cost and complexity of delivering broadband to isolated communities doesn’t cut it anymore.

Rural communities deserve a fair deal on broadband, just like everyone else.

The internet is not just about sharing funny pictures of cats or kids (though this is obviously important). It’s a key feature of modern life, both personal and professional. It’s a part of everyday activity, from online banking, to renewing a driver’s licence, to keeping in touch with family. For businesses, it’s often an essential tool – for engaging with customers, suppliers, or partners, and keeping up with the competition.

Scotland’s Isle of Arran is the largest island in the Firth of Clyde. Until recently, its beautiful scenery and historic attractions hid a frustrating fact: incredibly slow broadband.

“On a good day, I could get a maximum of 0.5 Mbps,” says Jackie Newman, an office administrator at Dougarie Estate in the north-west corner of the island. “I would open up a web page and then go off and do something else while it loaded. If there were adverts or videos on the page it just wouldn’t load at all.”

Bringing good connectivity to broadband ‘blackspots’ in isolated, rural areas is difficult: digging trenches and laying broadband cables can cost thousands, making traditional methods inviable. But on Arran an inventive solution is under way, using Nominet’s ‘TV white space’ technology to power fast, reliable broadband coverage.

 TV white space refers to the parts of the wireless spectrum freed up by the UK’s switch from analogue to digital TV. It can create two-way communications at high data rates over long distances, enabling Wi-Fi in large areas where wired connections would be difficult. On Arran, internet provider Broadway Partners, using Nominet’s technology, installed a base station in Dougarie. Aerials attached to the Estate buildings deliver the signal, over a hill and through trees that would have hindered more established wireless technologies.

“I can do more than one thing at once now!” says Jackie of her TVWS-enabled internet, now twenty-eight times faster at 14 Mbps. “I can send emails, load multiple webpages, be referring to websites while on the phone to customers, and use social media. I can receive picture attachments without it crashing the server too!”

It’s an example of how innovative technology can solve real-world problems, and how UK companies can work together to deliver a world-leading standard of connectivity for everyone who needs it – not just those who happen to live in a densely populated area.

Guest blog by Russell Haworth, CEO of Nominet UK for techUK's "Good to Great Connectivity for the UK" Week. 

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