‘White-spaces’ wi-fi trial in TV spectrum

A consortium including Microsoft, BBC, BT and BSkyB today announced a trial of the use of white-space spectrum for wireless broadband. The trial, mirroring a US trial on Microsoft’s Seattle campus, will start on Wednesday.

In contrast to existing licence exempt wi-fi networks that use 2.4 GHz spectrum, the trial’s use of sub-1GHz ‘sweet spot’ spectrum (currently used for broadcasting) for wi-fi will allow greater range. Broadcasters are nervous about the potential for interference and the trial will try to identify if that is a real concern (or not).

The trial follows Ofcom’s policy thinking earlier in the year. Whilst the issue has polarised opinion in the US, the UK consortium’s involvement of the broadcasters at an early stage holds hope that a pragmatic solution may be possible.

The timing is interesting given next year’s auction of 800 MHz ‘digital dividend’ and 2.6 GHz ‘Wi-Max capable’ spectrum. If successful, commercial deployment of white-spaces wi-fi is likely to adversely impact the value of other spectrum that can be used for wireless broadband.