TV White Space use in PH for disaster response cited in UN study

A report on global broadband penetration released recently by the United Nations has recognized the pioneering deployment of TV White Space in the Philippines for disaster response.

Photo shows the TV White Space radio antenna located at the DOST regional office in Leyte

Photo shows the TV White Space radio antenna located at the DOST regional office in Leyte

The study, “The State of Broadband,” devoted a section to TVWS use in the country to highlight its huge potential in bringing connectivity in rural areas, especially during times of disaster.

The boxed story is published below:

In late 2013, the Philippine government’s ICT Office was working with local partners on the Ecofish project to use TV white spaces (TVWS) and Windows tablets to improve fisherfolk registration and sustain biodiversity in Bohol province.

After a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck Bohol on October 15, the project’s equipment was repurposed to help relief efforts and provide Skype calling and Internet access to hospitals, disaster relief centers, and the general public.

Two weeks later, on 8 November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan struck as the deadliest typhoon on record in the Philippines, killing at least 6,268 people and the strongest storm recorded at landfall in terms of wind speed.

Its impact was devastating, affecting around eleven million people, with many left homeless. Relief efforts were hampered by the loss of communications infrastructure.

The day after the typhoon, the ICT Office assembled a ‘package’ consisting of one VSAT, three TVWS radios, and two Wi-Fi routers to be dispatched to Tacloban. Due to very difficult conditions, it was nine days before the team was able to reach Tacloban.

The local team decided to install the TVWS equipment in Palo near Tacloban. Once the equipment was in and the locations for network nodes established, the network was set up and switched on in hours.

The resulting network provided immediate two-way voice and data wireless communications for anyone with a functioning device (such as a handset, laptop, tablet), who came within range of the network.

Ecofish project equipment was deployed near Tacloban to create connectivity hotspots and provide free Skype calling for relief workers and survivors gathered in a school evacuation center, as well as voice and data transfers (messaging, picture uploads, file transfers, etc).

The network initially covered a distance of 1 km, but eventually extended reach to between 3-5 km, providing speeds of 3-5 Mbps.

Over the following weeks, its capacity and robustness were able to provide users with sufficient bandwidth and throughput, illustrating the potential for TVWS to be used in disaster response and the need to be prepared to deploy such solutions immediately after a disaster.

Prior to the deployment of the TVWS network, anyone who wanted to access communications had to attend a government center to access the satellite link — a journey that was dangerous, challenging, and long in the wake of the typhoon.

The network deployment extended this reach dramatically, at under a tenth of the cost of viable alternatives, and provided communications during disaster relief efforts.

A number of partners helped establish the TVWS network, including the firm Nityo Infotech, Microsoft, the development agencies, USAID and NetHope.

The TVWS system has proved the potential of TVWS technologies as a solution to the “last-mile” problem of connecting far-flung communities to the Internet.

Internet connectivity was vital to speeding up disaster relief and recovery efforts in both the Bohol and Haiyan events, enabling communication between NGOs and their home bases. The Internet connection is since being used by the school in lessons.

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