White space radio could soon yield innovative and important business opportunities for many sectors
The report, entitled “White Space radio: High Street Hit or Left In the Lab?” is a result of a White Space workshop that was hosted by Cambridge Consultants and which involved experts from Nokia, Samsung, BBC, and BskyB.
White Space Arrival
Frequencies that are reserved for TV broadcasting are used in a patchy way across the country, to avoid interference between different broadcast antennas. This allows shorter-range services to use those antennas in the so-called “white spaces” where they are not used for TV broadcasts.
The main conclusion of the report is that the emergence of white space radio and its use in daily life is inevitable, and it will be increasingly used to support internet provision and broadcasting, among other things.
The report also predicts that we will see enterprise White Space devices developed by the end of 2011, with the first White Space consumer devices appearing in the next five years.
But the research also highlighted how the opening up of White Space frequencies will in turn also open up new possibilities for wireless devices. At the present, the main thinking is that White Space frequencies will be useful for providing extra mobile capacity for data hungry smartphones and “always on” devices.
It even suggests some possible business opportunities for a range of industries, but says these initial market opportunities will emerge as a series of smaller, niche applications, because they require lower levels of investment and would minimise dependency on multiple parties.
One of the most obvious applications would be a micro or localised wireless Internet service provider (WISP). The report states that this concept offers great potential for businesses, such as a supermarket or local government that is located in rural areas, to supply internet services and advertising to the local surrounding area.
The report envisages that the delivery of personalised and location based services to a very local customer base would require a very modest investment by the supplier, and would prove to be an attractive new business model. Indeed, the report speculates that delivery could cost as little as one tenth of the cost of copper.
Another potential opportunity from White Spaces would be localised broadcasting. Broadcasters could utilise White Space for interactive ‘back-channel’ applications, and the delivery of highly localised content and advertising.
But other opportunities are also available, including in areas such as M2M, smart metering, and applications that require connectivity over a long-range but low data rate (medical monitors etc). These areas have been targetted by Cambridge start-up Neul Networks.
And Cambridge Consultants feels these examples could be made to pay, as White Space technologies offers two potential revenues streams, firstly from direct data delivery and secondly from indirect revenue streams such as advertising.
“It is important to view White Space as a platform that a multitude of technologies can use, presenting incredible potential for application far beyond simply supplementing traditional cellular networks,” said Fraser Edwards, Head of Radio Frequency Systems at Cambridge Consultants.
“One of the main difficulties is identifying which vertical market will see significant headway first,” he said. “Technology is being developed, but this is still largely hidden from public view and further demonstration of both the technology and specific market application is needed before significant investment is forthcoming.”
“A priority now should be establishing standards to allow for common platforms, economies of scale and large scale uptake,” Edwards concluded. “Without standards White Space could be a footnote, but effectively marshalled White Space has the potential to deliver even greater innovation and new services that we have seen in previously unlicensed spectrum such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.”
And standards are on the way. In July for example the IEEE standards body officially published its standard for equipment that would use white space frequencies.
Meanwhile in June a consortium that included Microsoft, BT and the BBC, announced it would test “white space” spectrum in Cambridge, to see if the technology can provide the bandwidth to complete the UK’s broadband coverage issue. Essentially that trial looked at whether the technology is commercially viable for a range of applications.
Last November Ofcom began a consultation about how “white space technology” will work in practice.