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TV White Spaces – otters, meerkats and the future technology behind a real internet of things

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The world needs more wireless. There are just too many applications and products chasing too little spectrum space. And the biggest challenges are yet to come, as more and more machines start to ‘talk’ directly to each other as part of their functions. Which is why various countries have been looking at ways to provide more bandwidth for these services. The most promising is TV White Space, the unused portion of the TV spectrum which used to be occupied by old analog television broadcasts. Now the UK has officially agreed to allow a full roll out of this technology by the end of this year, which is very good news indeed.

The decision to go for a full blown white space services follows an extensive trial, and will cover the frequencies from 470 to 790 MHz. What this means is new services can now sit alongside existing users of this spectrum like local TV and wireless mic users. The new services will be able to broadcast over long distances, nestled in between the digital TV frequencies, which means it could provide a huge boost to things like rural broadband, or emergency service monitoring across the country.

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Unlike the situation in the US, where various vested interests have stymied attempts to get this new tech going, the UK – specifically OFCOM the official governing body for communications technology – has worked round any conflict issues by implementing a database managed system, which should mean that there will be no interference between competing systems and services on any particular part of the white space spectrum. Each device will check with the central database, determine if there are any local competing devices such as wireless microphones, and select the optimum part of the spectrum that will work without interference at that time. It’s pretty clever.

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And the otters and meerkats? Well one of the first services to run using this new spectrum has been a live animal feed from London Zoo, which has provide 24/7 coverage of the otters, meerkats and other cute critters as they go about their business. Think of it as using very wide area wireless networking as a feed into a YouTube server. The test broadcasts have just ended, but you can get a recorded idea of how they looked, and what we’ll get when this service is eventually rolled out, at the OFCOM site here.

Bottom line? This is a really exciting development in wireless services, and hopefully it will open the door to a massive surge in free to air services which can deliver the rich experience of local WiFi, but over huge distances. Without cables. Definitely one to watch.

Nigel is the managing editor of the Red Ferret, as well as a freelance columnist for the Sunday Times newspaper in London. Loves tech and fancies himself as a bit of a futurist, but then don’t we all?

Nigel – who has written posts on The Red Ferret Journal.


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