BT's white space trial: Weak results due to pre-standard gear?

The bad news is BT's ongoing trial of TV white-space service in the United Kingdom is reportedly producing disappointing results. The good news is the equipment being tested does not conform to the IEEE 802.22 standard, which promises considerably better speeds and coverage for networks deployed in white-space spectrum.

U.K. news outlets are reporting that BT's trial network on the Isle of Bute in Scotland is delivering sporadic service with maximum data speeds of 8-10 Mbps, which drop to just 4 Mbps when used 6 kilometers away from the transmitter.

Yet BT is not dismayed by its white-space experience. "Everybody gets hung up about speed," Chris Gibbs, BT Openreach's director of insight, innovation and futures, told PC Pro. "The real thing is, can Robert McAlister [a local farmer taking part in the pilot] go online and sell his beasts on? Can his daughter sit there at the same time and watch BBC iPlayer? It might be you only need 8Mbits/sec shared over a few people."

BT announced early last month that it had been so encouraged by the results of white-space spectrum trials on the Isle of Bute and in Cambridge, that it is extending the trial to Cornwall in the west of England.

The value of those tests is somewhat moot, given that BT is apparently using equipment that does not conform to the 802.22 standard. "True 802.22 systems are still under development," Apurva Mody, the IEEE 802.22 working group chairman, told Telecompetitor. "What you see in the market today are pre-802.22 devices and other variants that do not comply with the .22 protocol."

The 802.22 standard was created with an eye toward loftier results than BT is experiencing. When IEEE announced in July 2011 that it had completed the 802.22 standard, the organization said, "This new standard for Wireless Regional Area Networks (WRANs) takes advantage of the favorable transmission characteristics of the VHF and UHF TV bands to provide broadband wireless access over a large area up to 100 km from the transmitter. Each WRAN will deliver up to 22 Mbps per channel without interfering with reception of existing TV broadcast stations, using the so-called white spaces between the occupied TV channels."

Despite having pre-standard equipment, BT is clearly hoping the early technology rials will help it offer a viable commercial service once UK regulator Ofcom completes its rules for the use of unlicensed white-space spectrum. The agency has estimated that the amount of UK white-space bandwidth is comparable to that available for 3G services, with up to £320 million ($512.4 million) of economic benefit potentially derived from using this untapped spectrum in the UK alone.

The United States is leading the way into white-space deployments thanks to aggressive moves by regulators to open up the market. The world's first commercial white-space network was launched during late January in Wilmington, N.C.

For more:
- see this Telecompetitor article
- see this PC Pro article
- see this ISPreview article

Related articles:
UK's Ofcom mulls 700MHz auction to sidestep mobile data jam
Telcordia TV white-space database wins certification as market ramps up
BT extends white spaces trial to Cornwall
Telcordia TV white-space database wins certification as market ramps up
Wilmington white spaces network goes live
BT: Tests using white space for rural broadband are 'very encouraging'