Microsoft testing white-space broadband in UK

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Microsoft, BT, and other companies have teamed up to test a system providing broadband services via unused television spectrum.

'White space' networks are similar to Wifi, but can be particularly suitable for rural areas. TV spectrum signals travel farther and are better at penetrating walls than Wifi, and so require fewer access points.

"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," says Cambridge TV White Spaces Consortium in a statement.

"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 TV white spaces hotspots will include local pubs, other leisure venues, commercial premises and individual homes.

The tests will cover a number of scenarios, including streaming high-quality video and audio content from the BBC and BSkyB to mobile devices from Nokia and Samsung.

If it works, it could dramatically cut the cost of rural broadband provision. But atmospheric conditions could affect the quality of the signal, and there are likely to be problems with interference.

"Wireless networks using the TV white spaces can provide connectivity similar to Wifi, but with coverage areas measured in kilometers instead of meters," says Microsoft corporate VP for technology policy Dan Reed.

"Radio is also egalitarian in that the cost to link a user 30 meters away is the same as the cost of serving a user several kilometers away. Once a base station is turned on, everyone within range has access. In addition, the more rural the user, the less intensively radio spectrum is utilized, which enables greater data rates for rural users who do not have direct access to fiber or other wired broadband connections."

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has given permission for the trial to go ahead. Last fall, the US Federal Communications Commission moved to allow unlicensed use of TV white spaces.