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White space spectrum to bring wireless broadband to Isle of Arran

Suppliers Nominet and Broadway Partners collaborate to trial the use of TV white space spectrum to improve broadband coverage on the Isle of Arran in Scotland

TV white space (TVWS) – the gaps in TV spectrum that have gone unused since the digital switchover – is to be pressed into service to deliver a commercial wireless broadband roll-out on the Isle of Arran in western Scotland.

In what is thought to be the first such use of TVWS for this purpose in Europe, internet infrastructure firm Nominet and community broadband specialist Broadway Partners have teamed up to begin trials on the Scottish island, which has a population of around 5,000, ahead of a wider roll-out in other remote parts of Scotland.

TVWS is thought to be ideal for wireless broadband services in remote environments because it can deliver two-way communications at higher data-rates across a long distance, making it suitable to supply connectivity across large open areas where it would be difficult to supply fixed connections.

The trial will begin in Machrie on the west side of the island, and will extend further in the coming months.

“The Arran roll-out shows that TV white space can reach places that other technologies cannot, and paves the way for further deployment of this dynamic spectrum management technology,” said Nominet CEO Russell Haworth.

“It’s fantastic to see our proven expertise in new technologies such as TV white space is now providing the key building block to help remote areas to finally get online.”

The service will supplement existing offerings from mainstream operators such as BT, which are already available on Arran – Openreach’s fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) service arrived on the island in 2014 under the auspices of Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) with the objective of reaching 90% coverage by the end of 2016.

However, Nominet said, parts of the island were in danger of being further left behind as available services struggle to manage the increase in usage of bandwidth-hungry services such as video. Additionally, said Nominet, the service would help support the island’s vital tourist industry – Arran’s population can easily quadruple during the high season.

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“TV white space has proved its mettle, cutting through hard to reach rural forested areas on Arran which, in fixed wireless terms, is pretty much unheard of. This technology will be a powerful tool in the drive to deliver affordable broadband access for all communities throughout Scotland and abroad,” said Broadway founding director Michael Armitage.

However, Scott Willis, CEO at in-building wireless and IP coverage supplier Zinwave, said while taking up unused spectrum to supply wireless broadband was a good idea for rural areas, it was important to remember that the impending 5G mobile roll-out will not only provide faster speeds, but will require more spectrum.

“There is a huge shortage of spectrum and, in addition to ‘spectrum farming’ – where spectrum is taken from one place and given to operators for broadband use – which is helping to combat its scarcity, operators must ensure that they are using spectrum sparingly,” he said.

Read more on Telecoms networks and broadband communications

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