White space technology promises new networks from old TV bandwidth

One would have thought that the era of widespread new networks, in developed markets, either fixed or mobile, is over. Upgrades will happen: LTE is coming on well, and 5G is round the corner, but most would consider a brand-new network, for whatever purpose in this day and age, well… extremely unlikely. Not so. The so-called digital dividend, that is, the spectrum released from digitising the TV networks, will release a whole load of so-called “white space.” And this white space can be used to create new networks, even if they have slightly different characteristics to today’s 2G/ 3G and 4G mobile networks. By sacrificing the immediacy of communication of today’s voice and data networks, which use power to “ping” the network every few seconds, battery life can be massively improved - making the network ideal for the next few billion “subscribers”, that is, machines and objects. Refuse bins, for example, may check on their own status, notifying the refuse collection truck, for example, when a bin is full. Similarly a postal pick-up or drop-off point may notify a carrier if there are parcels to be collected, avoiding unnecessary trips. And because the devices only “talk” to the network maybe once a day, they can remain active for years, decades even. It’s clever, though perhaps not as clever as the proposed tricorder highlighted in my last post. However the implications are likely to be huge when it is used effectively in urban networks, which is the plan. I am also reliably informed that the cost of network build out is extremely low: a fraction of the usual $100,000 plus per base station. And of course the licence costs are nothing. So who is doing this? Well, there are a few whitespace pioneers. At the fore-front is Neul, based in Cambridge, which has developed just about every component needed, from network infrastructure to chipset, and has hired in a Who’s Who of the best RF Engineers. In terms of countries, the US is most advanced, followed by certain EU countries like the UK, where Ofcom has been actively looking into the potential of white space, and parts of Asia. In Asia it is worth singling out Singapore, where the regulator IDA is in the process of putting together a regulatory framework for white space, which is also, incidentally, known as super-WiFi.