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How to build a national cellular wireless network for £50m

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Enter the £1,000 base station

Neul reckons it can get the cost of a base station down to £1,000 a pop, multiplied by ten to cover the antenna, installation and backhaul and you've got base stations costing ten grand. Transmission power is limited to one watt, making cells small by TV standards but big compared to phone networks, and putting the cost of a national network well under £50m.

One watt won't give you much in the way of bandwidth, kilobytes rather than megabytes, which is why the company is sticking to machine-to-machine (M2M) connections, though existing operators also want to play in that market.

GSM networks are already being used for M2M connections, exemplified by Amazon's Kindle and its accompanying Whispernet connectivity. But GSM is poorly suited to low power applications, requiring complicated, and continuous, registration and paging signals.

Neul is confident that its meagre energy requirements and simplicity of silicon will win the day, especially as the number of devices goes up and the cost of embedded phones in every one becomes economically impossible.

Not that Neul is just about white space - it also has its eye on the 600MHz band which no one seems to know what to do with. The UK government is set on getting some local TV services into that area, but no one wants to run or watch them. Once that plan dies off the spectrum should pop up for auction and Neul could well be in the bidding, though that might prove expensive.

This is important as Neul dosen't have much in the way of money. The company was only set up last year and is still raising first-round funding.

The utility of a national network for M2M communications is hard to deny, but who gets to run that network is more difficult judge. What we can't afford is multiple incompatible networks, as they'll interfere with each other and reduce the utility for all, but the alternative might be an equally objectionable monopoly.

Ofcom seems pretty unsure what to do with the whole ex-TV radio bands, other than those slices which have been harmonised around the world for mobile telephony - thus ensuring cheap kit, and expensive frequencies. The regulator has a new consultation out last Wednesday on that very subject (pdf, more woolly than usual), asking what people think might fit well in the spaces where we used to watch TV.

We might not need talking fridges or connected cars, but they're certainly more interesting than more local TV. ®

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