White Space Trial Starts in England

Carl Weinschenk

Last week, the first field trial of white space technology started in Bute and Cambridge, England. It's high profile both because of the extravagant promise of white space and the big names involved.

In Cambridge and Bute, the trial is being run by The Cambridge White Space Consortium, which has some small players, some somewhat larger companies and all-stars BBC, BSkyB, Microsoft, Nokia and Samsung.

White space technology, which is experiencing problems in the United States related to domestic politics, is the use of vacant broadcast frequencies for "super Wi-Fi" services. The white space frequencies are robust and capable of deep penetration into homes and buildings. They also are free to users. The challenge is that different frequencies are available in different places. Thus, new real-time database technology is necessary to ensure that the right frequencies are in use in a particular location.

The radio side of the Cambridge test is being run by Neul. There are a couple of interesting tidbits related to this. One is that the company, no doubt timed for the Cambridge/Bute trial, announced $12.8 million in funding. According to FinSMEs, the round came from IQ Capital, Cambridge Angels and "the company's founders and employees."

The other item is that the company's Dr. Tim Newton used the Future of Wireless conference in Cambridge to detail precisely what is difficult about white space. ZDNet.co.uk has a story on the presentation, with a link to it. Essentially, creating the automated databases is difficult, since the spectrum rarely is truly free of manmade signals. In essence, white spaces actually are a bit gray. This, Newton suggests, greatly increases the complexity of what must be done to ensure that the system is working correctly:

The answer is to be clever - analyse the noise, find out what's causing it and work around it. One technique is called kurtotic analysis. In effect, this looks for the characteristic spikes in energy that fingerprint a transmission that may be too weak to decode but is nevertheless strong enough to be a problem.

The white space sector is interesting. The potential benefits are huge and the basic challenges are fairly obvious. The trial in England is very important, as is the political dynamic in the United States. And, unfortunately, politicians are far less predictable than radio signals.

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