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Google, Microsoft and BT take lead roles in UK’s White Space broadband trials

Tech giants Google, Microsoft and BT will take part in wireless broadband and remote sensing pilots using the spaces between Freeview signals later this year.

The White Space Innovation Trial will be the UK’s first large-scale test of technology which can squeeze into empty frequencies without affecting TV transmissions.

Confusingly, one of the trials will also use the spaces between Freeview signals to broadcast – er – high definition TV.

Google, Microsoft and BT take lead roles in UK’s White Space broadband trials
Glasgow will get free public WiFi in the White Space Innovation Trial

Read Recombu Digital’s guide to TV White SpaceOfcom, which will manage the trial, said: “The UK will be among the first countries in the world to road-test ‘white space’ technology, which could help support the next wave of wireless innovation.”

Google is one of several companies which will test intelligent databases that ensure white space devices know which frequencies and power levels they can use in different parts of the UK to avoid interfering with Freeview and other users.

Ofcom’s white space technology plan uses these databases to inform ‘master’ devices, which then set the rules for ‘slave’ devices such as remote sensors, smartphones and home broadband routers.

Steve Unger, Ofcom’s chief technology officer, said: “Spectrum is the raw material that will underpin the next revolution in wireless communications. 

“In the future it won’t be just mobiles and tablets that are connected to the internet; billions of other things including cars, crops, coffee machines and cardiac monitors will also be connected, using tiny slivers of spectrum to get online.

“This is likely to deliver large benefits to society; however there isn’t an unlimited supply of spectrum to meet this extraordinary demand. 

“This is why we need to explore new ways of unlocking the potential of spectrum – like white space technology – to get the most from this valuable national resource.”

Microsoft will take part in a free WiFi service in Glasgow, which has the UK’s lowest broadband take-up of any city, and establish a network of sensors to create a ‘smart city’.

It will be the world’s first trial of 802.11af, an international standard for white space devices, and will include both fixed and mobile broadband.

BT will work with the Department of Transport to place wireless traffic monitors along the A14 between Felixstowe and Cambridge, transmitting information to drivers in a bid to reduce congestion and improve safety.

Hampshire, West Sussex, Dorset and the Isle of Wight will see ISP Click4Internet providing wireless rural broadband. 

The Freeview frequencies should help signals to reach places obscured by thick foliage or difficult terrain.

Oxford will see a trial of machine-to-machine communications for managing buildings and sensing the environment, including the community-run Oxford Flood Network where citizens will place sensors to give early warnings about flooding.

Other projects will include wireless CCTV in Watford, water utility management in rural Scotland, broadband for public protection and disaster relief, and HD TV transmissions for public entertainment and information.

If the trial is successful, Ofcom predicts that white space devices could begin to roll out in late 2014.

Image: markhillary/Flickr

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