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Microsoft declares UK white spaces trials a success

After 10 months, consortium sets out results of trials in TV band spectrum, supporting M2M and unlicensed broadband


Published: 26 April, 2012

READ MORE: Spectrum | UK | M2M | Testing/Certification | Wi-Fi

In Cambridge, the heart of the UK's testing program in white spaces spectrum, a group of major technology vendors has laid out the results of its trials. After 10 months of testing in urban and rural areas, the Cambridge TV White Spaces Consortium says it has confirmed the potential value of the white spaces - the unused channels in the TV broadcast band - for a range of applications.

The US has led the way in opening up the white spaces for licence exempt wireless use, and already has a couple of small commercial networks, but the UK is in hot pursuit, and decisions made by its regulator, Ofcom, are likely to have a significant influence on European Union policies for these frequencies. The headlines, driven by Google, Microsoft and other political campaigners for more unlicensed broadband, have centered on using the spaces for rural broadband or 'Super Wi-Fi' hotspots, but many trial participants see greater commercial potential in other applications such as machine-to-machine (M2M) and smart grid connectivity.

The consortium spans many of the likely applications and interested parties, including the broadcasters themselves. While the US broadcast community has tended to be hostile to the plans, citing risk of interference with their activities, their UK counterparts have shown in interest in complementing their core services with white space functions such as video distribution. So the BBC, Digital TV Group, BSkyB and cableco Virgin Media are part of the consortium, along with British Telecom. Other participants include white space specialists Adaptrum, CRFS, Neul and Spectrum Bridge; vendors Alcatel-Lucent, Microsoft, Nokia and Samsung; infrastructure firm Arqiva; plus Cambridge Consultants, chipmaker CSR and TTP (The Technology Partnership).

This group has investigated and measured a range of applications including "rural wireless broadband, urban pop-up coverage and the emerging machine-to-machine communication". Its broad conclusion was that "TV white spaces can be successfully utilized to help satisfy the rapidly accelerating demand for wireless connectivity". In the role of mouthpiece, Microsoft called on Ofcom to complete the development of a regulatory framework - a process on which the regulator is already consulting - "in a manner that protects licensees from harmful interference and encourages innovation and deployment".

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."

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