BT, BBC and Microsoft In Cambridge White Space Trial

Peter Judge has been involved with tech B2B publishing in the UK for many years, working at Ziff-Davis, ZDNet, IDG and Reed. His main interests are networking security, mobility and cloud

Cambridge will test whether “white space” radio systems can communicate and solve Britain’s broadband crisis

A consortium will test “white space” spectrum in Cambridge, to see if the technology can provide bandwidth to complete  the UK’s broadband coverage.

The consortium which includes Microsoft, BT and the BBC, will test white space radio, a technology designed to get more use out of radio spectrum allocated for TV broadcast. White space radio has been proposed to complete the UK’;s broadband coverage, and the test will focus on whether it works – and is compatible with other radio users.

Will white space radios play nicely?

Kings college chapel, Cambridge, by Christian Richardt, Wikimedia

The group will test radios that use TV broadcast spectrum to communicate, but don’t interfere with TV transmissions because they use  particular frequencies that are not being used in their  location. The test network involves Cambridge-based white space radio specialist Neul Networks,  as well as US-based white space experts TTP, Spectrum Bridge and Adaptrum.

“With the number of connected devices and data applications growing rapidly, and with mobile networks feeling the strain, we must find ways of satisfying the traffic demands of today and tomorrow,” said a statement from the group. “This trial will attempt to demonstrate that unused TV spectrum is well-placed to increase the UK’s available mobile bandwidth, which is critical to effectively responding to the exponential growth in data-intensive services, while also enabling future innovation.”

The use of white space radio has been proposed in the US, but has mired in arguments. The UK may be more open to the proposals, and could allow unlicensed use of the technology across the countryif the tests show that it communicates effectively, and does not interfere with TV transmissions or other radio users. BT is involved in another trial in the remote Scottish isle of Bute – this trial is designed to test penetration and interference in a more urban environment.

Neul Networks, based in Cambridge, will presumably be central to the test: its NeulNet prototype product offers speeds of up to 16Mbps for devices close to the base station, but this reduces to 10kbps at distances up to 10km. This lets Neul offer two apparently contradictory benefits: coverage and cost.

The whole country could be covered by around 6,000 NeulNet base stations, which could be placed on existing cell towers, which would provide good enough coverage for low-bandwidth applications such as communicating with Smart Grid electricity meters.

Microsoft has  published a blog post, with a promotional video, arguing for the use of white space in both Britaqin and the US.  Phone makers Nokia and Samsung are also involved.