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Wanna put your toaster and fridge online? Over to you, Ofcom

New wireless spec for 'Internet of Things' awaits rubber stamp

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A blueprint for connecting up toasters, kettles and toys, and popping them onto the internet, has landed on the desk of the UK watchdog Ofcom.

Version 1 of Weightless SIG's specification describes how devices can comfortably communicate over White Space - a collection of unused gaps in the radio spectrum. Gadgets can access an online database to discover locally available frequencies and use those slots to send and receive data between themselves. The system is awaiting approval by Ofcom.

Hardware using White Space spectrum should be declared legal in the UK later this year, but it will compete with rival communications standards that plan to shift into the same frequency bands - not to mention the licensed frequencies already squeezing in machine-to-machine chatter: for example, smart electricity meters and the like using 2G mobile networks to phone home data.

We're told Weightless SIG's spec is designed to work on cheap and simple electronics, and offers unprecedented battery life, a long connectivity range, 128-bit encryption, low packet overhead, and data transfer rates between 1kbps and 10Mbps. It's aimed specifically at the radio bands that were allocated for analogue TV transmission but are soon to be vacated by broadcasters. However, 2G networks are already here and Weightless SIG won't be alone in filling the White Space.

As well as companies planning to simply shift existing Wi-Fi standards down the frequency dial to take advantage of the empty space, there's 802.11af, an IEEE standard for using Wi-Fi in unused bands. Other standards, such as 4G/LTE, have been successfully demonstrated carrying machine-to-machine communications; software and chips supporting those standards are obviously already available.

Weightless SIG's technology is also in silicon: Cambridge-based Neul wrote the first version of the standard and spun out some chips earlier this year in the confidence they will be compatible with the officially endorsed version.

It's no surprise that the photograph accompanying the Weightless SIG spec announcement shows staff lined up on the stairs at Neul's UK offices: Neul is the main driving force behind the standard despite endorsements from Vodafone-owned Cable & Wireless Worldwide and processor designer ARM. More international backing will be needed if the standard is really going to connect up everything, but having a standard to endorse is an important step along the way. ®

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