The race for white space spectrum

As featured on TM Forum's the Insider blog

While the ‘traditional’ mobile telecommunications operators struggle to come to grips with how best to capitalize on the growing machine-to-machine (M2M) sector a potentially disruptive special interest group has emerged. It is driving usage of freely available ‘white space’ spectrum.

This white space lies unused within spectrum bands, left fallow to create gaps or buffers between TV broadcasts to avoid interference between channels.

The Weightless Special Interest Group (WSIG) has been formed to develop and evangelise the Weightless standard, which it claims is a paradigm shift in M2M technology. The WSIG is building a large global ecosystem, having already attracted nearly 500 Members in its first year.

The Weightless SIG touts that white space spectrum provides the scope to realize tens of billions of connected devices worldwide overcoming the traditional problems associated with current wireless standards - capacity, cost, power consumption and coverage. It states that the forecasted demand for this connectivity simply cannot be accommodated through existing technologies and this is stifling the potential offered by the M2M market.

However, the combination of the unique and unusual nature of that access, and the very different characteristics of machine traffic compared to human traffic, means that using any existing standard is said to be far from optimal. Hence the need for a standard designed specifically for machine communications within white space. Weightless technology has been optimised for this specific scenario and is now being delivered as a royalty-free open standard.

Traditionally, industry SIGs, alliances and forums rely on volunteer support from member companies to work on standards development, to staff working groups and to publicise the technology and the SIG’s interests. Aware of the enormous potential of the M2M/Internet of Things opportunity, the Weightless SIG has made a significant change from standard industry practice by engaging with an independently operated skills centre that will manage a dedicated awareness-building and membership growth campaign.

WML assumes the responsibility for promoting the Weightless SIG’s interests. A comprehensive, cross-platform marketing campaign is being rolled out using the WML founders’ extensive PR, marketing, digital publishing and social media skill sets and experience. WML will engage with SIG executives and Members on a continuous basis to build momentum, and to create a dominant market position for Weightless and the Weightless standard.

With a market forecast to be worth over trillion with 50 billion connected devices by 2020, WML claims it is uniquely positioned to help the SIG deploy its differentiated proposition.

Phys.org feels that tapping into unused spectrum requires two things: reliable sensing to determine which parts of the airwaves are not being used at any given time; and spectrum-agile radios inside of devices that can reliably determine and switch to the clearest parts of the band for wireless communication.

Unlike spectrum auctioned to run 2G, 3G and 4G services, UK regulator Ofcom and the FCC in the US want the white spaces spectrum to remain licence exempt — which means anyone would be able to operate in the spectrum without having to first shell out for a licence to run their service. The only condition Ofcom would place is that those using the spectrum “do not cause harmful interference to existing users of the spectrum.”

This is where the potential conundrum lies. News reports late last year that Google and Microsoft were ‘sniffing’ around white spaces spectrum in the UK and as more and more organizations eyeing this white space for things like enhanced Wi-Fi, rural broadband and M2M, and a free-for-all develops, there lies the potential for interference between users.

If this situation is reached then it is likely the regulators will have to step in and the initial objectives of using that freely available white space may be dashed. In the meantime, Weightless may be well become the ‘black swan’ disruptor we didn’t expect.
 

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