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White space wireless trial points the way to smart dustbins and faster rural broadband

A 10-month pilot of ‘white space’ wireless technology has given the green light to better broadband coverage and smart devices from dustbins to electricity meters.

The Cambridge TV White Spaces Trial explored the practical aspects of using the gaps between UHF Freeview TV signals in urban and rural areas around Cambridge.

Experiments included long-range city centre WiFi hotspots, high speed wireless rural broadband, dustbins that told the council when they needed emptying, and interactive exhibits at Duxford Imperial War Museum.

Cambridge wireless internet by Cotares

It’s been declared a success by the trial’s 17 partners, including the BBC, Sky, BT, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, and Virgin Media.

Now they want to see communications regulator Ofcom, which also took part in the trial, open the whole country to white space wireless tech.

They said: “The consortium explored and measured a range of applications — rural wireless broadband, urban pop-up coverage and the emerging “machine-to-machine” communication — and found TV white spaces can be successfully utilised to help satisfy the rapidly accelerating demand for wireless connectivity.

“The consortium members recommend that the UK regulator Ofcom complete its development of the enabling regulatory framework in a manner that protects licensees from harmful interference and encourages innovation and deployment.”

A key part of the trial was measuring wireless use all over the trial area and developing a database that white space devices can look at to make sure they don’t interfere with Freeview or each other.

Most use of the valuable UHF spectrum has to be licensed, but Ofcom has proposed a licence-free system for devices which meet a strict White Space specification.

Communications minister Ed Vaizey said, “I welcome the success to date of the Cambridge White Spaces Trial. Leading innovators from the UK and beyond have demonstrated the potential that television white spaces can have for meeting the UK’s broadband needs.

“Developments such as this endorse the leadership position that the UK can take in enabling more efficient use of spectrum by opening up an array of opportunities for wireless applications for consumers and businesses alike. 

“I find the idea of using white space devices to deliver broadband to rural communities, or to expand the range and quality of urban Wi-Fi hotspots, exciting.

“This can form a significant contribution to our thinking as we consider how to maximise the value of the spectrum below 1 GHz. I look forward to hearing the next chapter of your progress.”

The trial could also help mobile phone operators share frequencies currently used by Freeview, which could happen after 2015, without retuning Freeview boxes and replacing TV aerials.

BT is also exploring the use of white space for rural broadband in Cornwall as part of the Superfast Cornwall initiative.

City centre coverage

Base stations on the north side of the Cambridge city centre were set up in in four pubs and a theatre, aiming to provide widespread coverage, including “pop-up” Wi-Fi hotspots. With antennas on rooftops, there was considerably further coverage than could have been achieved with conventional Wi-Fi, in 2.4GHz.

The consortium said: “The tests showed that TV white spaces can help extend broadband access and offload mobile broadband data traffic.

“These hotspots can enable users to enjoy data-intensive services such as online video provided by BBC iPlayer and Sky Go during peak usage times, when additional capacity and wider reach is needed.”

Cell tower by thskyt/FlickrRural connectivity

A household in rural Orwell were connected to the internet via a base station 5.5km away in Melbourn, south of Cambridge. The trial achieved speeds up to 8Mbps, but operator TTP anticipates it would be possible to achieve speeds greater than 20Mbps using radios further optimised for rural broadband connectivity while occupying a single, dedicated TV white space channel.

Richard Walker, TTP’s head of wireless, said: “Entire rural communities could be rapidly connected using low-cost hardware operating in unlicensed TV white space. A

“The cost of deployment is significantly lower and faster than fibre over long distances in remote areas.

“Consumers will simply have to purchase a second TV aerial along with a white space router similar in size and price to existing home routers, while we would expect service charges to be similar to current ADSL costs.”

Machine-to-machine communication

Ever heard of the ‘Internet of Things’? It’s the idea that simple objects will be able to communicate with us and each other, not just over short distances but via the internet.

Industry forecasts estimate there will be more than 50 billion connected devices worldwide by 2020, and the trial explored this machine-to-machine communication. 

Utilising the available white spaces, an application developed by BT and Neul sent an alert message to the city council when city dustbins were full and needed emptying.

IWM Duxford by Paul H HudsonLocation-based services

The Imperial War Museum in Duxford, one of Europe’s leading aircraft museums, was given an interactive makeover.

Nokia and Spectrum Bridge developed a location-based service application that sent visitors prompts on a smart mobile device, informing them about the items they could see and offering a rich array of related content. 

Images: Cotares, thskyt/Flickr, p_a_h/Flickr