National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF)

Smart Spectrum Sharing Team

For developing the Smart Spectrum Sharing Technology (S3T) for a smarter ICT infrastructure and digital inclusion

The 2019/2020 NSTF-South32 for Innovation Award: Corporate Organisation was won by the Smart Spectrum Sharing Team, with team leader and Chief Research Scientist Dr Fisseha Mekuria, CSIR. The team received the award for developing the Smart Spectrum Sharing Technology (S3T) for a smarter ICT infrastructure and digital inclusion.

It was Nelson Mandela’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech that inspired Dr Fisseha Mekuria to come to South Africa and use his expertise within the wireless communications and research space to find solutions to the connectivity crisis. Today, he works with CSIR next generation enterprises and institutions, developing an innovative spectrum sharing and management system.

The system uses data from the national regulator Icasa, radio propagation standards from ITU (the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union), and computational modelling algorithms to identify available white space spectrum channels at any location in South Africa. Now network operators can access available spectrum, through their network devices, to provide broadband network services at any geolocation in South Africa.

The CSIR smart spectrum sharing (S3) research project resulted in the development of a suite of technology products, commonly known as the CSIR Geo-location Spectrum Database (GLSD). The GLSD technology suite is hosted at the National Centre for High Performance Computing as a cloud interface service. The CSIR GLSD system is designed to provide spectrum availability information to new entrant network operators and to provide broadband in a “non-interfering way” to existing services.

A focus area regarding developing the GLSD technology is to help countries avoid wasting an expensive national resource — the radio frequency (RF) spectrum — as the GLSD technology can intelligently identify and automatically detect unused RF spectrum areas in the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) bands. These identified spectrum white spaces are made available for broadband internet services, thus improving affordable digital connectivity. This process helps to accelerate the deployment of wireless ICT services, as well as providing impetus for the creation of SMMEs that deploy network infrastructure and provide affordable broadband internet.

Mekuria says affordable broadband internet has been proven as a critical factor in bringing education and equality to people, reducing crime, improving the economy and transforming communities. Access to affordable digital connectivity is vital to unlocking a country’s socioeconomic development potential.

Mekuria says the CSIR smart spectrum sharing technology is future secure. Already there are useful applications in the emerging wireless technologies, such as 5G (fifth generation) mobile standards. Furthermore, he says that sharing crucial resources for improved inclusivity and efficient use of national resources, such as the radio frequency spectrum, is part of what will make the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) impactful and sustainable. — Tamsin Oxford

To read the full Mail & Guardian supplement of articles about the work of all the 2020 Award Winners, click here.

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