Enterprise M2M looks to whitespace communications
Enterprise M2M looks to whitespace communications
Whitespace communications could be just what machine-to-machine communications systems need to grow exponentially in the next few years. But just how will businesses benefit?
Cambridge may be famous to most as the city where the brightest students vie for a university place. However, the British city is also the first in the world to play host to a whitespace network. A total 8 MHz of unlicensed spectrum is now singing with wireless messages, sent between one machine and another and the ramifications could be significant for businesses across all sectors.
what is whitespace?
Whitespace is the gap between licensed parts of the radio spectrum. The ultra-high frequency spectrum is most often used for TV channels, but frequently goes unused. Now, companies are eyeing this spectrum as a key asset for the "Internet of things". They hope that it will serve as a fabric for machine to machine (M2M) communications.
Glenn Collinson, board member and chair of the strategy committee at Neul, a whitespace M2M network platform developer that participated in the Cambridge trial, hopes that it will revolutionize the way that companies do business together. "What M2M is about is making more efficient use of the natural resources that are out there," he says.
how will M2M benefit from whitespace?
Using whitespace, M2M communications could change the way that businesses talk to each other, and communicate internally. If business assets were suddenly able to exchange information with each other, they could be monitored and controlled in ways that were not possible before. For example, Neul collaborated with smart metering company Bglobal to create a smart electricity meter network that uses whitespace to relay data.
Collinson sees a variety of applications awaiting the Internet of things, because "you can track anything". Aside from the smart grid, he envisages smarter flows of traffic in cities with more integrated transport systems. Municipalities could improve their own services, making them more efficient. For example, street lights could be made to turn on and off as needed. And end-to-end communications, combined with sensors, could make air pollution monitoring in cities far easier.
In the logistics industry, devices could not only track the contents of shipment pallets, but also track the individual items within those pallets. A fleet management company could use M2M to find out the location of specific cars on the road, and what jobs field engineers have completed during their day. It could then use that data to help optimize fuel consumption by the vehicles and save the company money as gas prices continue to rise.
However, James Maynard, president at Wavefront, a government-funded wireless incubator based in Vancouver, BC, argues businesses still have a long way to go before they understand the true potential of wireless technology. "Right now, the major impact of wireless on businesses is push mail and voice," he said. "It hasn't got into the way that we really do business, and I think the big change is two or three years away."
barriers to deployments of whitespace
Perhaps the biggest problem for whitespaces is their inherent complexity. The UHF frequency used for whitespace communications sits at the lower end of that spectrum window. Its characteristics are long-range, meaning that fewer transmitters are needed to cover a wide area. Collinson believes that the UK, for example, would need to install 5,500 towers to cover the majority of its landmass. He adds that although there is roughly 100 MHz of whitespace available in most UK locations, these may not always be correct frequency required.
Another issue is that available frequencies are not always continuous; there can often be other signals in the middle. This means that any device has to hop nimbly between different parts of the spectrum bandwidth.
potential investment forms for whitespace
Whitespace could be an investment opportunity for smaller private sector companies. They could invest in clusters of UHF towers where it makes sense to. The idea would then be to rent whitespace bandwidth to each other on most clusters. A smart metering company might rent space to a logistics firm so that it could communicate the location of passing trucks, for example.
Collinson hopes that as smaller companies get involved in whitespace communications, larger ones will jump on board. Mobile operators could also be interested in utilizing software radio to switch whitespace communications equipment easily to 4G data services, particularly in hard-to-reach areas.
One of the initiatives established by Neul in the Cambridge trial was the development of a wireless communications standard called Weightless
It has been designed to help companies send relatively small amounts of data across networks while coping with the unique constraints of the spectrum and should help to weather some of the aforementioned barriers.
Overall, whitespace data communications are still a nascent prospect. But as global regulators begin loosening the legal ties around the use of this valuable spectrum, and as companies see the business models evolve, it is sure to be a powerful part of many B2B service infrastructures.
To find out more about the Orange approach to M2M, please go to the Orange Business Services M2M information web pages or view a booklet on the range of Orange M2M services.
Orange Business Services is recognized by Frost & Sullivan and Berg Insight as the European leader in M2M growth. Its International M2M Center is a global leader in borderless global M2M connectivity. M2M solutions from Orange are complemented by a seamless global network that provides IP access in 220 countries and territories and supports more than 2.5 million active M2M connections.