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How TV White Spaces can bring broadband to all
By: John Vassallo, Vice President - EU Affairs
26 June 2011

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Several of the EU’s biggest tech and media companies join together to explore use of TV white spaces spectrum to help meet the fast rising demand for broadband and therefore meet Europe 2020 targets for broadband coverage.

Close to 40 per cent of households in the EU still have no broadband connection, according to European Commission figures published at the end of May. Europe could tap TV white spaces  and other spectrum bands to dramatically improve wireless broadband coverage in rural areas, bolster capacity and fill coverage gaps in urban areas.

Harnessing the TV white spaces in this way could help the EU achieve its objective of bringing broadband to all. Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, recently called for more coordinated and efficient use of spectrum in the EU to promote the development of innovative technologies and services. Kroes notes: “It is my ambition to get Every European Digital — which means, in the first instance, that all Europeans, 100% of them, should have access to basic broadband by 2013. This is not the only target of the Digital Agenda. But it is perhaps one of the most important.”

Today Microsoft joined other technology and media companies to announce a new trial consortium in Cambridge, England, to show how white spaces spectrum can assist in meeting the increasing demand for bandwidth in the UK. The companies supporting the trial include the BBC, BSkyB, BT, Cambridge Consultants, Microsoft, Neul, Nokia, Samsung, Spectrum Bridge and TTP. Adaptrum and KTS are also providing considerable hardware support.

In the UK, regulator Ofcom is adopting a progressive spectrum policy and is supporting the Cambridge project by, among other things, approving a multiple-site test licence. Using these licences, the consortium will show that TV white spaces can help broadband access services cope with the challenges of connecting small villages and penetrating the thick stone walls of the city’s medieval university. The trial will use the latest cognitive radio technologies, which locate and utilize radio frequencies that would otherwise be unused, to enable devices to connect to the internet making full use of the available TV white space spectrum in the vicinity.

Low-cost broadband connectivity can be used to deliver a multitude of innovative services. For example, Neul, one of the startups participating in the Cambridge trial, is involved in “smart metering” technology, enabling sensors and measurement devices to transmit data back to computer servers in real time. This technology can be used to monitor everything from energy usage to traffic levels to the health of crops, helping to realize many socio -economic benefits.

Microsoft and other leading global and European companies are investing their time and their unique expertise in the Cambridge trial because we collectively believe that more efficient use of spectrum, needed to enhance broadband services, has the potential to spur growth, innovation and productivity.
As Professor Linda Doyle of Dublin’s Trinity College says in the video below: “If you invest in broadband, you invest in the economy of a country … . We need to take a much more dynamic view, and not limit ourselves, and put rules in place that are open-ended enough to allow for innovation.”

More broadly, it is vital that every country makes best use of scarce natural resources, whether these are deposits of zinc, iron ore or radio spectrum. With that in mind, regulators in the EU, and other parts of the world, will be interested in the outcome of the Cambridge trial, and the subsequent actions of Ofcom.

Read more about the Cambridge White Spaces Trial research project here.

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