Gaps in TV spectrum could be used for data services

White Space Wi-Fi consortium starts testing in Cambridge

An industry group of IT and media companies is conducting trials on ‘White Space’ frequencies to enhance wireless broadband.

The Cambridge TV White Spaces Consortium is made up of the BBC, BSkyB, BT, Cambridge Consultants, Microsoft, Nokia, and Samsung, along with TTP, Spectrum Bridge, and Neul. A similar group – called the White Spaces Coalition, and including Microsoft, Dell, and Google among its members – was set up in the US two years ago.

“White spaces networks work in much the same way as Wi-Fi, but because TV spectrum signals travel farther and penetrate walls better, they may require fewer access points,” the consortium says in a statement. “[The technology has] the potential to help bring mobile broadband to areas not well served by existing connections.”

Cambridge Consultants has already trialled its White Space network, using the social media sites Twitter, YouTube, and Skype video. “A challenge when using this new White Space spectrum is avoiding interference with residents’ TV signals and professional radio microphones,” said Cambridge Consultants’ head of wireless Richard Traherne. He adds that the company has developed a database engine to pinpoint unused frequencies that are available in a given locality. Cambridge Consultants also uses a ‘spectral sensing’ cognitive radio platform that enables White Space radios to search the spectrum for channels that have interference, and so find the best spectrum to use.

According to Filomena Berardi, senior analyst at IMS Research, Wi-Fi delivered through White Spaces spectrum has the potential to be supported by over 1 billion devices: “With this economy of scale, Internet connectivity prices have the potential to fall very quickly, and there is potential for Wi-Fi in White Space to be combined with existing Wi-Fi”.

Berardi cautions, however, that there is no guarantee that this will happen, as “white space radio may not be suitable for the type of applications Wi-Fi is targeting… Mass market volumes are not necessarily a measure of success.”

Although part of the Cambridge consortium, and based in the city, start-up Neul will not support the IEEE 802.11af standard (embraced by interoperability certification body The Wi-Fi Alliance), and is instead developing its own standard, codenamed ‘Weightless’, geared toward machine-to-machine Internet connectivity. “If standards are targeting completely different markets there’s no reason why they both can’t exist,” says Berardi. “After all one size never fits all.”

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