Ofcom has announced that Microsoft, Google, BT and others will take part in a white space technology trial that it's conducting over the next six months.
Let's first explain what white space technology is and why it matters. The technology relies on unused spectrum or "gaps" between frequency bands in radio spectrum. Spectrum is a curbed resource that's in high demand because it supports all mobile devices and wireless applications. Therefore, as an efficient way to get the most from limited spectrum, white space devices access the unused spectrum between frequency bands.
Communications regulator Ofcom revealed last spring that it wanted to trial white space technology in the UK. Specifically, it wanted to utilise unused spectrum between the bands of digital terrestrial television broadcasting and wireless microphones. Ofcom has announced today that 20 public and private organisations will take part in its trial over the next six months.
Two of the most notable companies are Microsoft and Google. Google will act as a potential database provider, while Microsoft will test how white spaces can provide access to free Wi-Fi in Glasgow, which has the lowest level of broadband in all UK cities. Microsoft particularly will examine how to use white spaces for linking a network of sensors around Glasgow to create a "smart city".
BT is also signed up to test traffic management. For instance, BT will use a small network of white space transmitters to send data on traffic congestion and varying traffic conditions to vehicles. The vehicles will sport white space devices which will then broadcast data about their speed and position. BT's testing could help to regulate the flow of road traffic across the country, as well as relaying live information to drivers.
“Spectrum is the raw material that will underpin the next revolution in wireless communications," said Steve Unger, chief technology officer at Ofcom. "In the future it won’t be just mobiles and tablets that are connected to the internet; billions of other things including cars, crops, coffee machines and cardiac monitors will also be connected, using tiny slivers of spectrum to get online."
Unger also said white space technology was likely to deliver large benefits to society, so its potential needs to be explored as though it were a "valuable national resource". Once the six-month trial concludes, Ofcom hopes to roll out the technology by 2014, thus promoting the use of white space devices across the country.