Microsoft trials TV signals for WiFi


By Andrew Parker, Telecoms Editor

A consortium led by Microsoft will on Wednesday begin a technology trial that should pave the way for new mobile broadband networks that can support bandwidth-hungry smartphones.

The BBC, British Sky Broadcasting and BT are in the consortium that will investigate how radio spectrum that is not needed for transmitting digital terrestrial TV could be used.

This so-called "white space" spectrum could create "super WiFi" urban networks, and provide basic broadband infrastructures in rural areas.

Microsoft has built such an experimental network at its US headquarters using spectrum in the frequency range reserved for transmission of digital TV.

The US software group hopes the UK trial in Cambridge will persuade other European countries to allow white space spectrum to be used in mobile broadband networks. It has also talked to Japanese and Singapore regulators about similar spectrum arrangements.

One of the trial's key objectives is to demonstrate that TV transmissions are not damaged by using white space spectrum for mobile broadband services.

Booming consumer demand for smartphones and tablet computers has alerted companies and regulators to the need to make additional radio spectrum available. The white space spectrum that is not used for digital TV could be a very significant source of airwaves for new mobile broadband networks.

Dan Reed, a Microsoft executive responsible for its technology strategy, said: "Spectrum is a finite natural resource. We can't make more and we must use it efficiently and wisely."

BT and BSkyB, which operate the UK's leading WiFi hotspot infrastructures, are interested in the possibility of using the white space spectrum for mobile broadband networks.

Existing WiFi hotspots are confined to homes, offices and public spaces because they rely on relatively high frequency spectrum that only supports wireless data signals travelling short distances. However, wireless data signals can travel longer distances on white space spectrum because it is low frequency, opening the possibility of building more powerful WiFi networks.

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