Microsoft is teaming up with a group of other companies, including the BBC, BskyB, and BT, to form the Cambridge TV White Spaces Consortium. The group plans to use its combined expertise on wireless communications to develop technology and software aimed at utilising the so-called "TV white space" of often-unused wireless spectrum
The trial will investigate its belief that the unused portions of spectrum currently allocated for television broadcast can be utilised for other purposes, too, with a little cleverness. The technology being tested uses database of known used frequencies in various areas, and location data from devices, to keep the latter switching to spectrum that won't be contested.
The consortium is keen to point out the benefits of using the low-frequency TV spectrum; not least of which is the improved range. The upshot of that is that fewer base stations would likely be needed for wide-area networks using the TV white space, should they be established - a boon for rural areas, often left out in the cold with contemporary networks.
According to Microsoft, the Cambridge was chosen for the trials in part because of because of its environment. "The city is distinguished by a dense mixture of buildings, including the historic stone buildings of its colleges, which offer a unique opportunity to demonstrate the penetration of TV white spaces signals when compared with other higher frequency networks such as Wi-Fi. And although Cambridge itself has good broadband access, some neighbouring villages suffer poor broadband service, allowing the advantageous range of TV white spaces communications to be demonstrated." That Microsoft's UK research headquarters is centred in Cambridge, too, is probably a coincidence.
Key to the consortium's effort is having been granted a multi-site licence to carry out these trials, by Ofcom. The UK regulator's approval of these trials, suggests its openness to solving the problems of spectrum exhaustion, and will hopefully set a precedent. After all, without Ofcom's say so, there's no chance of implementing a solution, even if one is found.