The results of a landmark trial in Cambridge, England, which was completed today, point to how the European Union can make much more efficient use of spectrum to deliver better broadband services and fuel economic growth.
Run by an unprecedented consortium of 17 companies (including Microsoft), the trial demonstrated that the untapped spectrum between television channels could be used both to increase broadband capacity in urban areas and provide cost-effective broadband coverage in rural areas.
These “TV white spaces” sit in prime, low-frequency spectrum. Radio signals can travel long distances in these frequency bands, making them well-suited to provide wireless broadband coverage over large geographic areas. In the Cambridge trial, devices using the TV white spaces spectrum were able to deliver up to 8 Mbps net speed over 5.5km links to two rural households in Cambridgeshire within an 8 megahertz bandwidth. Consortium member TTP believes it will be possible to achieve even greater speeds – faster than most of the fixed-line connections in European cities today – by using radios further optimized for rural broadband connectivity.
The trial also demonstrated that the spectrum can be used to deploy massive Super Wi-Fi hotspots, potentially alleviating congestion on mobile broadband networks in city centres and other high-utilisation areas. Further, TV white spaces could be used to connect a wide range of devices, machines, and vehicles to the Internet. Such cost-effective connectivity could usher in the age of the “smart city,” in which dustbins send a message when they need emptying, electronic road signs give real-time updates to drivers, and utility companies are automatically notified of water leaks.
In summary, TV-band spectrum can help deliver two of the key policy objectives in the European Commission’s Digital Agenda - digital inclusion and support for innovation
and the development of emerging technologies
, applications, and services. The results of the trial also reinforce the EU’s Radio Spectrum Policy Programme, which calls on EU Member States to make more efficient use of spectrum through the deployment of new technologies, such as “cognitive radio, including those using white spaces".(1)
Microsoft and the other members of the consortium plan further joint activities to support U.K. regulator Ofcom and its counterparts elsewhere in the EU, as they seek to bring this valuable spectrum into play.
“We must… look at novel ways to share spectrum: so that for example, public and commercial users, or different commercial sectors, can benefit from shared access to the same spectrum bands,” said Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda. I know that is a bold step, and indeed it may not be straightforward. But to such exponential challenges, we need creative answers.”
To that end, the European Commission has provided standards body ETSI with a mandate to create European harmonised standards for cognitive and software-defined radios. The mandate includes work specifically related to the use of geolocation databases to access TV white spaces. Further trials of TV white spaces are taking place in Germany and Finland.
The FCC has paved the way for the use of the TV-band white spaces spectrum from broadband services this year. It has completed its regulatory rulemaking on TV-band white spaces and has already certified geolocation databases from Spectrum Bridge and Telecordia. The FCC’s actions underscore that broadband is now critical to modern living. Fast connectivity will be “table stakes” in the future economy – any company or individual that lacks broadband will be at a competitive disadvantage.
Europe will need to move quickly to keep pace with the U.S. Europe needs better broadband
sooner rather than later. The near-term release of the TV white spaces will not only level the playing field within the EU, but also help ensure Europe remains competitive on the global stage.