Microsoft looks into super Wifi networks

27 June 2011 | Kavit Majithia


IT giant Microsoft is to lead a consortium to establish whether unused radio spectrum to transmit terrestrial television can instead support a new generation of mobile broadband networks.

A trial will be held in Cambridge this week to establish whether some of the spectrum designed for digital TV can be converted to create super Wifi networks in towns and cities. In addition to Microsoft, the BBC, BSkyB, BT, Nokia and Samsung are backing the initiative.

Spectrum is proving scarce at present, considering the increasing market for data heavy devices like the iPhone and the Android which are overloading operator networks because of bandwidth heavy applications like Youtube.

According to the Financial Times, a frequency range of 470MHz to 790MHz is reserved for digital TV, but not all of it will be used by broadcasters like BBC and ITV. It is likely, after the transition is complete from analogue to digital TV next year, there will be spare spectrum on the airwaves, named white space. Industry experts believe Wifi networks in the UK are weak at present, and considering the networks operate on airwaves at 2.4GHz bandwidth, it is difficult for wireless data signals to travel on long distances.
 
“With mobile networks feeling the strain, we must find ways of satisfying the traffic demands of today and tomorrow,” said Microsoft. “This trial will attempt to demonstrate that unused TV spectrum is well-placed to increase the U.K.’s available mobile bandwidth.”

For regulator Ofcom, one of the main issues to come out of the trial is whether white space spectrum will have an effect on TV transmissions, but the problem could countered by using routers to find wireless connections to smartphones.

Microsoft told the FT it has held similar trials in the US but not encountered such issues.

Cable, TV and telecoms operators have been offering a convergence of bundled services for years and Microsoft’s consortium could potentially find a scope for the networks to be used for both sectors.