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Google and London Zoo test white space broadband with meerkats

Google and London Zoo are trialling white space spectrum for monitoring endangered animals in the wild.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Google has teamed up with London Zoo in the UK's latest 'white space' trial which will see meerkats and other animals live streamed on YouTube.

The trial becomes the latest in the UK to use gaps in spectrum otherwise allocated for TV broadcasting that Ofcom has made available under temporary licenses, in order to explore the feasability of white space for data transmission.

While previous trials have tested white space spectrum for smart cities and wireless broadband on public transport, Google and London Zoo are exploring its potential for monitoring and protecting endangered animals in the wild. For this trial however, the cameras will be trained on the zoo's enclosures for meekats, Asian otters and giant Galapolgos tortoises. Links to the stream are available here.

The seed of the idea and basis for the white space partnership stems from a £500,000 grant that London Zoo won in Google's Global Impact Awards last year for its proposal to combat animal poaching. The zoo has used the funds to lay a network of small cameras and sensors in Kenya's poaching hotspots in an effort to monitor and hopefully prevent the activity.

The zoo is exploring white space spectrum to determine whether it could help improve data transmission over long distances that are today covered by satellite.

"We've developed some tiny cameras that send photos back at the moment via satellite. TV white space can help us extend the range of those devices to aggregate the data from those cameras to one actual base station," said Alasdair Davies, technical advisor for the conservation technology unit of the Zoological Society of London.

Davies said it hopes to deploy the technology being used in the UK trial in Africa in the next one to two years.

Google is supplying the trial's spectrum database, which keeps track of available TV white space frequencies that broadband devices can use.

Google applied to be part of the UK's white space trials last year, joining Microsoft, BT, MediaTek, Huawei-owned 'internet of things' startup Neul and around 20 other participants. 

Ofcom said it expects the technology "could be" rolled out during 2015, but only after the completion of trials, testing and policy development.

The US rolled out its first white space-based broadband service last year to deliver faster speeds in underserved parts of northern California.

Microsoft has also been running several white space trials in Africa where it's looking to broadcast low-power internet signal over ranges of up to 5.4km in the hope of delivering end users speeds of up to 4Mbps.

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