A consortium led by Microsoft will begin a technology trial in the UK this week that should pave the way for new mobile broadband networks that can support bandwidth-hungry smartphones.
The BBC, British Sky Broadcasting and BT are among the consortium members to investigate how radio spectrum not needed for transmitting terrestrial television could be used for new wireless broadband networks.
This so-called white space spectrum could create “super WiFi” networks in towns and cities, as well as provide basic broadband infrastructures in rural areas.
Microsoft has built an experimental mobile broadband network at its US headquarters using spectrum in the frequency range reserved for digital TV transmissions.
It hopes the UK trial in Cambridge, which will be closely watched by regulators, will persuade other European countries to allow white space spectrum to be used in mobile broadband networks.
Microsoft has also held discussions with Japanese and Singapore regulators about similar spectrum arrangements. The Cambridge trial will start on Wednesday, and a key objective is to demonstrate that TV transmissions are not damaged by using white space spectrum for mobile broadband services.
Booming consumer demand for smartphones and tablet computers has alerted companies and regulators to the need to make additional radio spectrum available to support them.
The white space spectrum that is not used for the transmission of digital TV could be a significant source of airwaves for new mobile broadband networks.
Dan Reed, a Microsoft executive responsible for its technology strategy, said: “Spectrum is a finite natural resource. We can’t make more and we must use it efficiently and wisely.
“The TV white spaces offer tremendous potential to extend the benefits of wireless connectivity to many more people, in more locations, through the creation of super WiFi networks.”
BT and BSkyB, which operate the UK’s leading WiFi hotspot infrastructures, are interested in the possibility of using the white space spectrum for mobile broadband networks.
These networks are unlikely to be nationwide infrastructures, but would instead provide coverage in particular towns and cities or parts of the countryside.