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Summary:

The new radio silicon uses the new Weightless specification to tap into the unused airwaves in between TV broadcasts. Such technology could be used to create a cheap data network for the M2M communications.

The Weightless Special Interest Group, the U.K. organization trying to build a technical standard around “white space” radio communications, has developed its first commercial silicon. Weightless founder Neul developed the white space radio chipset and has started offering it up to partners for testing. The hope is those partners will build the devices that tap into this new source of unlicensed airwaves and potentially connect the internet of things in the U.K.

Weightless White Space ChipThe TV white spaces are the unused airwaves lying between TV channels, and governments around the world have proposed using those frequencies to develop a type of “Super Wi-Fi” – basically combining Wi-Fi’s unlicensed, free-to-access model with the much longer reach of these low-frequency TV airwaves.

In the U.S., regulators and the technology’s boosters want to use TV white spaces to expand the availability of cheap broadband, though the issue has become a political hot potato in the upcoming TV spectrum incentive auction. Microsoft is working with African regulators and ISPs to experiment with whites spaces broadband access in Kenya.

In the U.K., though, regulators are earmarking the spectrum as a means to ease the burdens of traditional cellular data networks — using unlicensed airwaves to offload 3G and 4G traffic. British entrepreneurs have interpreted that offload concept as making white spaces ideal for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, the long-range wireless grid concept for linking together the internet of things. In Cambridge, Neul has begun testing smart grids and other sensor networks in a citywide trial. Neul has drawn in other U.K. heavyweights, including ARM, CSR and Cable & Wireless, all of which joined the Weightless SIG.

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Neul and Weightless said the new chipset can tap the entire range of UHF frequencies from 470 MHz to 790 MHz, which means it could be used in countries beyond the U.K. (The location of white spaces differ from country to country and even city to city, depending on which frequencies local TV stations use). However, they didn’t reveal which partners were taking possession of its samples, so we’ll have to wait to see which hardware makers are interested in the fledgling standard.

Feature image courtesy of Cillian Storm.

  1. See my post “Urban Legend of Free WiFi For The Masses: Devil in the Details,” on http://mayo615.com. There is a lot of loose talk out there about Super WiFi. Both the political and technical issues are daunting. In the United States, not least is the monopoly political clout of Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon and Sprint. Also see my post on Susan P. Crawford’s new book, Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age…As far as I am concerned this is still nothing more than an urban legend.

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    1. Your point exactly, David?

      I do reference the controversy and obstacles surrounding white spaces in the U.S. But this post is about white space use in the U.K., which seems to be progressing much more.

      I agree with you that there is loose talk about white spaces since the WaPo article, but we’ve been covering this issue for years, including all of its potential pitfalls. I would hope you’re not lumping us into the same “loose talk” category.

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    2. WHAT is still nothing more than an urban legend?

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      1. Rich,

        WHO’s on first.

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  2. Kevin, I made my point very clearly, and in my own post. The enthusiasm for White Space or Super Wifi is way out front of the reality. The NPR blog report on the viral hysteria over this, clarifies the political issues. The situation in the UK also appears to be heavily influenced by the same telecom monopoly political issues as in Canada and the US. Then there is the need for an entirely new IEEE spec., and the multiple unresolved technical issues beyond a new spec.

    So Microsoft launches a Super WiFi service in Kenya!

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