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Government Agencies and Industry Collaborate to Bring Connectivity to Southern Islands

TVWS Connectivity for Southern Islands
Photo Credit: GovTech SG

GovTech and SLA are testing the use of television white space for data transmission over long distances. This would pave the way for remote aerial drone operations and IoT deployments on Singapore’s Southern Islands.

The Islands have recently become testbeds for connectivity solutions that could allow maintenance inspection works of all the Southern Islands to be managed remotely from mainland Singapore in the near future.

While mainland Singapore is almost completely covered by 4G networks, the Southern Islands are not, the internet connection is not great in areas. Therefore one suggestion is to bring internet access to the Southern Islands via television white space (TVWS) – the unused radio spectrum in the television broadcast bands -which can be tapped on to transmit and receive data wirelessly over distances of up to 10 kilometres.

Singapore – Frontrunner in the Development of TVWS Technology

Dr Oh Ser Wah, founder and CEO of connectivity solutions firm Whizpace Pte Ltd said that “In 2006, I had been working on TVWS at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR),” adding that his research group had developed a functioning prototype by 2008. That same year, the US Federal Communications Commission put out an international call for testing of TVWS technology, and Dr Oh’s team was invited to the US to see how their device would fare.

“We were the only non-US organisation invited, and the other companies involved in the test included big names like Microsoft, Motorola and Philips,” he said. His team’s prototype ended up outperforming all the others in terms of being able to detect the presence of digital TV signals—a necessity for TVWS technology.

Government and Industry Collaborating to Solve Communications Issues on Islands

Now, his company is working with the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech), the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore in a trial to use TVWS for transmitting video data from an unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) to a laptop. The six-propeller drone, custom-built by ST Engineering, houses a high-definition camera and a module that allows it to tap into TVWS for sending video feeds wirelessly.

Discussions for this trial began in October 2018, when officers from SLA and GovTech got together to define problem statements and aspirations surrounding the management of the Southern Islands. Currently, SLA officers have to travel by boat and on foot to carry out manual inspections on the general maintenance of the islands, for example, grass cutting, housekeeping, pest control, arboriculture and horticulture works.

“SLA wants to leverage technology to help our officers perform their work more efficiently. Using automated aerial drones to carry out maintenance inspection works on the Southern Islands is one approach, but that is contingent on stable connectivity,” said Mr Vincent Aw, head systems and support, land management at SLA. “TVWS seemed like a good way to achieve those goals,” he added.

TVWS Connectivity Could Provide More Solutions for Government Concerning Southern Islands

After six months of trials, Mr Jack Toh, executive manager of the Smart Nation Sensor Platform solutions division at GovTech noted that the trial has allowed GovTech and SLA to validate certain operational parameters of TVWS technology.

“For example, we have validated that signal transmission over TVWS is possible without direct line of sight, which means that we can deploy our TVWS stations in vegetation without worrying too much about interference,” he said.

The findings of the trial will help inform how the eventual TVWS infrastructure on the Southern Islands will look like. It is thought that TVWS connectivity will further enable SLA to operate a range of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors on the Southern Islands.

For example, the water tanks on the Southern Islands need to be topped up from time to time; and currently, water level sensors that trigger alerts to officers before the water runs out are in place. It currently relies on 4G network that is intermittent on islands and having TVWS as a means of connectivity will help to ensure they are operationally ready at all times.

All government agencies —GovTech, SLA and private company Whizpace—are committed to making TVWS work. They all have future plans for what could be tested next on the Southern Islands.

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