Home & Office

Neul sets date for white-space network's arrival

Next year should see the public launch of a brand new wireless network technology now being trialled in Cambridge, aiming to give connectivity to thousands of devices at low cost and low power
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

Neul has officially unveiled what it says is the world's first city-wide white-space radio network, covering the whole of Cambridge.

The system, announced on Wednesday, is still in its test phase, but the company says it will be available for commercial use in 2013.

"We are targeting 'smart city' applications and the 'internet of things'," Glenn Collinson, chairman of Neul's strategy committee, told ZDNet UK. "We're also demonstrating today the first use of white space to do remote electricity meter reading, with our partner Bglobal."

The wireless network, which reuses UHF TV channels at low power with frequency-hopping to avoid interference, is built from seven base stations. Each of these is capable of supporting more than 100,000 simultaneous users and covers around 40 square miles.

"The bandwidth is immense, with over 400Mbps available in most UK locations," said Collinson. "A fully equipped cell with all channels could easily support millions of users."

He noted that Neul is most interested in machine-to-machine networking (M2M), saying that a typical use would be an electricity meter passing back a few hundred bytes on an intermittent basis. Other uses envisioned include vehicular traffic management, parking control and security.

Rural broadband

Although the Cambridge white-space network is not intended for normal wireless broadband use, Collinson said that rural broadband provision is being planned.

The technology can deliver good-quality broadband to a rural community.
– Glenn Collinson, Neul

"The technology can deliver good-quality broadband to a rural community," he said. "It's not our primary focus, but we are especially interested in the US, where the legislation is ahead of the UK. We can sell commercial kit there, and there's white-hot demand.

"Next year, once our kit has been battle-tested in the US and the regulatory permissions are in place, rural broadband in the UK is a very strong possibility."

Neul has developed the radio side of the white-space network, including the chip development and test deployments, the network management techniques to handle large numbers of simultaneous users, and a service side with cloud-based interfaces for developers.

"It's been a three-pronged technology development," Collinson said. "We've completed the alpha stage, and we're now in beta with the pre-commercial network. Next year, once regulatory approval is available, the network will become commercial."

Open standard

Neul and around 50 other companies are developing an open standard through Weightless, a special interest group that also counts BT, Vodafone and ARM among its members.

"The standard will be entirely open," said Collinson. "All IP is royalty free, with no hidden royalties in chips or software. We'll make our money by base station hardware, then through offering network management and other components in SaaS configuration."

Another focus of the standard is low-power operation, he noted. "An ordinary AA battery will power a meter being read every 30 minutes for more than 10 years."

The total cost of adding white-space connectivity to a device will be around £1.50, or 10 times less than existing cellular technology, he added.

Get the latest technology news and analysis, blogs and reviews delivered directly to your inbox with ZDNet UK's newsletters.
Editorial standards