Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Sheffield innovation delivers broadband to UK’s ‘not spots’

Sheffield-based Whitespace Technology is rolling out a project to deliver high-speed broadband to UK homes and businesses struggling with connectivity.

Connecting the unconnected, it is pioneering the commercial use of the TV Whitespace technology by repurposing TV frequencies freed up following the switch from analogue to digital TV. High-speed connectivity for speed challenged areas of the UK is now possible.

It is utilising 20th century technology, updated for use in the 21st century with huge benefits for social housing projects in parts of Scotland, England and Wales.

Currently 1.5m UK properties have either no broadband connection or receive a service which delivers less than 10 Mbps. Almost 5 million don’t have access to superfast broadband – 30 Mbps, but that is about to change.

The product is perfectly suited to rural environments, delivering service over large areas, through trees, around hills, and buildings with ease and does not need any phone lines. Speeds of up to 50 Mbps upstream and downstream are delivered and, as the technology improves and evolves, 100 Mbps is achievable in the very near future.

Whitespace exploits the gaps in the old TV wireless spectrum – ‘whitespace’ – which became available following the big digital TV switchover.

The Whitespace team has spent the last two years rigorously testing the service in some of the most challenging areas in the UK and is now deploying the solution.

It aims to connect more than 20,000 properties to the service nationally over the next two years and is working on larger numbers with major UK ISPs.

The low cost of installing specially designed aerials, manufactured in a partnership with the well-established Sheffield business Blake UK Ltd., and linking them to an internet service provider is appealing to organisations such as councils, housing associations and community groups wanting to help connect low income households to the internet.

Mark Wheeler, Founder and Chief Exec of Whitespace, based at the Innovation Centre in Portobello, Sheffield, said: “Talks are ongoing to accelerate programmes across the UK and, potentially to communities around the world which do not have an internet connection.

“The affordable approach, which avoids the cost of complex infrastructure and digging up roads and footpaths, is very much ‘Made in Sheffield’,” added Mark.

The Whitespace Technology team includes Chief Operating Officer Mark Kelly, who, with Mark Wheeler, was part of the senior team at Sheffield telecoms company plusnet, and Chairman Steve Thomas, a well-known Sheffield businessman. Mark Wheeler has worked at the cutting edge of technology and internet service provision for 20 years. Mark Kelly has more than 15 years’ experience leading SMEs, corporate and enterprise service organisations.

“Our system offers the prospect of a major step forward towards the Government’s target of making it a legal right for everyone in the UK to have access to high speed broadband, with connection speeds of at least 10 Mbps, by 2020,” he added.

Whitespace is working with internet service providers, wireless network operators and UK communications regulator Ofcom.

In the longer term, Whitespace technology is seen as an opportunity to deliver high-speed broadband to parts of the world where the internet could be a valuable communicative and educational tool, such as parts of Africa. Some 53% of the world’s population is unconnected, totalling over 3 billion users.
Mark added: We’re already seeing huge demand for the service and we expect that to grow over the next two or three years.

“We are getting massive interest from community groups, SMEs, the Scottish and Welsh governments, local authorities, housing associations and others. We are getting inquiries from all over the world.

“As a team, we have always tried to innovate and push the internet into environments that are difficult to connect. By leveraging this new technology and applying our legacy ISP knowledge, we plan to scale quickly and provide communities the connectivity they deserve. We have found these communities to be very progressive and forward thinking in their approach, which has made our engagement and collaboration so much easier, and they receive a massive uplift in speed and reliability in return.”

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