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‘Weightless’ White Space Radio Standard Group Launched

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Cambridge firms propose Weightless tech as white space radio standard

The Weightless protocol for white space radio networks is now under the management of a Special Interest Group, which aims to get the Cambridge-developed technology established as a standard for the “Internet of Things”.

The Weightless SIG hopes today to publish version 0.9 of a proposed standard for machine to machine (M2M) communications, that can  link intelligent devices over the free-to-use “white space” radio spectrum that is left unused by broadcast radio and TV networks. Backers so far include Vodafone-owned Cable & Wireless and two Cambridge technology companies – ARM and CSR – along with the creator of Weightless, Neul.

Tuning into white space radio

“The Weightless SIG will follow the same model as Bluetooth,”  spokesman Alan Woolhouse told TechWeekEurope. The group hopes to establish Neul’s Weightless technology in the industry by offering the technology royalty free, on “fair, reasonable and non discriminatory” (FRAND) terms.

If it takes off, it can then be offered to a standards body such as the IEEE, in the same way that Bluetooth, created by Ericsson, became IEEE Standard 802.15.1.

“This is a very important milestone for Weightless,” said Professor William Webb, CEO of the new Weightless SIG. “The SIG now has a Board comprising leading players spanning processors, networks, chipsets and innovative wireless technologies.

“Weightless has gained a solid legal framework, enabling royalty-free licensing of terminal-related technology. Our plan is to rapidly grow membership from our current base of 50 high-technology companies and I would strongly encourage interested parties to join this world-changing initiative.”

White space systems use the same spectrum as TV or radio broadcast networks. Since broadcast networks use multiple channels to avoid interference, spare spectrum is available in any given area, and this has been allocated for licence-free use by regulators Ofcom in the UK, and the FTC in the US. Other regulators across the world are expected to follow suit, Woolhouse believes, so white space could offer ” a harmonised frequency band throughout the world”.

A year ago, Neul released version 0.6 of the Weightless specification, and since then it has been used in a proof-of-concept trial in Cambridge, testing white space technology as a way to deliver rural broadband access. US operator Carlson has launched a product in that area with Neul.

Version 0.9 is due to be published now, and the commercial-grade version, 1.0, will emerge some time after the first quarter of 2013, according to Woolhouse, at which point we can expect to see companies starting to provide products using the technology.

Long term, Weightless will focus much more strongly on the “Internet of Things”, in which intelligent devices connect through M2M links to make smart networks. The Internet of Things is often cited as a way to reduce emissions and increase efficiency, in such initiatives as the Smart Grid for power, and smart transport networks.

“Having another agreed standard is going to accelerate the growth and acceptance of M2M communications,” said Paul Brodrick, Utilities Business Development Director, Cable&Wireless Worldwide. “I believe that the work of the SIG will help to bring the benefits of smarter short to mid-range communications to a much wider audience.”

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