Ofcom, Google, Microsoft, others launch visionary "white space" exploration

Ofcom, the U.K. counterpart to the U.S.'s FCC, has commenced the largest exploration of "white space" frequencies the world has ever seen. Google, Microsoft, Spectrum Bridge, and upwards of 17 other private and public organizations over the next six months will test a wide variety of white space applications, including rural broadband delivery, HDTV broadcasting, automobile traffic management, early flood assessments, utility monitoring, and the "Internet of things" (a.k.a. machine-to-machine or M2M). The experiments will blaze a trail for future white space applications in "smart cities", environmental management, medical telemetry, and personal electronics like smartphones, tablets and gaming systems.

White space frequencies are those parts of the telecommunications spectrum that aren't currently being used by analog TV or large-venue wireless microphone systems. By establishing a central database of real-time white space usage, Ofcom and other regulatory agencies can clear the way for approved devices to actively communicate with the database, select an available frequency, and regulate power levels to avoid interference. This makes use of airwaves that would otherwise lie unused.

Google is one of the companies participating in the experiment as a database provider, fittingly enough. Microsoft's contribution will be to help provide free broadband access in broadband-poor Glasgow, Scotland, and to set up a network of sensors for detecting atmospheric conditions and feed them to a live map. BT, Neul and the Department for Transportation will test a traffic feedback loop system in which automobiles and stationary sensors will communicate with one another along a stretch of highway to ease traffic congestion.

White space's low frequency makes it super-fast, very long-range, and virtually nonchalant about transcending walls, trees, and hills. This makes it extremely attractive to Super Wi-Fi advocates, personal device developers, and sustainability utopians.

White space first became a wide-open field with the decommissioning of analog TV and the switch to digital. Although Ofcom's current experiment is not the first-ever conducted, it is notable for being by far the most ambitious and all-encompassing.