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Cambridge boffins bag big-time backers for White Space standard

Everyone's going Weightless

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Neul, the Cambridge White Space start-up staffed by some of the UK's top radio boffins, has managed to pick up some serious backers for its new Weightless protocol. A new special interest group backed by ARM, CSR and Vodafone-owned Cable & Wireless Worldwide will be pushing the UK to the forefront of M2M, plugging everything into a pervasive internet.

The three companies have signed up to support and promote Weightless, a standard developed by Neul, which uses White Space spectrum to connect battery-powered devices with a power drain comparable to on-shelf leakage - enabling everything from light switches to curtain rails to get an IP address and join the much-discussed "Internet of Things".

The Weightless protocol was kicked off a year ago, and can keep power requirements low by only paging connected devices every 15 minutes, and varying the symbol rate (and thus the speed) based on the strength of the signals, all of which makes it ideal for machine-to-machine communications such as automated meter readings and unattended environmental monitoring.

The protocol is designed to operate in White Space spectrum, frequencies which are used for TV transmissions elsewhere in the country so can't be used for TV locally but can be used for low-power communications such as Weightless.

Not that Weightless is restricted to such basic communications. The software (from Neul) can also be ramped up in speed to offer point-to-point or point-to-multipoint networking in the same bands, and the company has made a deal with California's Carlson Wireless, which developed an RF board, casing and both omni-directional and sectored antennas to create White Space networking kit capable of delivering 16Mb/sec over 10km without direct line of sight.

But not in the UK, not yet at least. All White Space devices need to check periodically with a central database to ensure they're not going to interfere with TV transmissions, and the UK hasn't got a database yet as Ofcom has been a little busy. The US has a handful online and will eventually have almost a dozen competing suppliers, and some (such as Florida's Spectrum Bridge) have made it very clear they intend to operate on this side of the pond, just as soon as Ofcom sorts out the paperwork.

ARM obviously has a huge interest in adding embedded intelligence to everything, and CSR makes wireless chips of all kinds so will also be a winner if M2M takes off. Cable & Wireless Worldwide is part of Vodafone these days which presents a slight a conflict in that Vodafone sells a lot of M2M connections, such as the smart meters being sold by British Gas, on its cellular network, but if the Internet of Things is half as big as predicted then there's enough connections to go around.

Neul was never going to make Weightless into the global standard alone - there are significant competitors both in M2M and White Space networking. ARM and CSR are both based in Cambridge too, so meetings should be easy to arrange, but international partners will be necessary too if Weightless is going to become a heavyweight standard. ®

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