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Google turns South African schools into White Spaces

Trying to get the government on-side

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Google has connected up ten Cape Town schools using unlicensed White Space radio spectrum, hoping to drive legislation permitting broader use of the technology in South Africa and the world.

The deployment is billed as a technical trial, proving that database-controlled White Space radios can operate in the same band as TV without disrupting the picture: but with only three sites and crowds of photogenic kiddies the intention is obviously to push legislators into permitting White Space radios generally in South Africa.

White Space devices use radio frequencies which are locally unoccupied, but have a primary user who's geographically distant and (typically) paying for use of the spectrum. Access points are required to check with an on-line database for a list of locally-empty bands, and check back regularly in case of changes. Once a band is selected client devices are notified and the network goes live, switching bands when/if required.

For stationary devices that's pretty simple, and for just three devices one could manually enter the frequencies without problems, so the trial is as much about demonstrating that it might work as proving that it does.

Such devices are already legal, and in use, in the USA, and should be legal in the UK within the next twelve months - Ofcom's time permitting. The technique is potentially as significant as wi-fi, permitting long-distance, high capacity connections in unlicensed radio frequency, and regulators are already looking at bands beyond TV where it could be applied.

Exactly what is to be transmitted in those bands is still under debate. The idea is to create something like 2.4GHz, where loads of different radio standards are used (though just two, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, dominate). Some companies are just pushing Wi-Fi down in the White Space bands, which works but isn't ideal, and some (notably Huawei) have mooted LTE as the ideal technology.

Google, it seems, is backing the Weightless standard emerging from Cambridge-based Neul. Neul is mentioned in the Google release, along with Carlson Wireless who design and build the boxes running Neul's software, which has itself recently found its way into silicon.

Google is one of the twelve companies approved to run White Space databases covering the USA, and has aspirations to provide the same service globally, but which country comes next in the quest for global domination is far from clear as regulators move slowly - which is why Google needs the photogenic kiddies. ®

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