In what may be seen as a breakthrough for the Internet of Things, Cambridge-based wireless firm Neul has launched the world's first transceiver chip to operate over the "white space" spectrum, which has become available due to the transition from analogue TV to digital broadcasting.
White space is the term used to describe the unused and under-used parts of the ultra-high frequency (UHF) spectrum, where TV channels are left vacant. Neul's software allows these frequencies to be used for wireless communication.
The new chip, known as Iceni, operates over the entire TV white space frequency range, from 470MHz to 790MHz, and supports both 6 MHz and 8 MHz channel bandwidths while conforming to the strict white space regulatory requirements.
Using this spectrum, Neul is able to deliver reliable, secure, long range wireless connectivity for machine-to-machine (M2M) applications using the "Weightless" wireless standard.
Neul explains that mobile broadband technology is too expensive to be used for M2M communications. The number of sensors required to enable 'Smart Cities' would also load the cellular networks to such an extent that there would be little network capacity left.
The Weightless standard - backed by ARM, Cable & Wireless and CSR - draws very little power and is specifically designed for embedding in objects such as electricity and gas meters, air quality sensors, recycling points, street lighting, parking spaces and traffic lights.
By enabling these objects to communicate over cheaper spectrum, Neul hopes to make the Internet of Things - which is widely forecast to be worth over a trillion US dollars in value and to enable tens of billions of connected devices by 2020 - a reality.
"When we looked at existing solutions and compared them to the promise of white space, we uncovered an opportunity to help build smart infrastructure and applications at huge cost savings, without sacrificing bandwidth or reliability," said James Collier, founder and CEO of Neul.
"The Iceni chip allows us to connect to devices that were previously unreachable. This opens up entirely new options for connectivity in healthcare, transport, education, heavy industry and more. We are pleased to have reached this milestone in the charge to make white space networks and services available to those game-changing applications."
The news was welcomed by the Weightless Special Interest Group (SIG), of which Neul is a member.
"This is a seminal moment in the evolution of Weightless technology. For the first time designers around the world can begin developing next generation M2M solutions using Weightless technology with silicon designed explicitly to be compatible with the Standard," said Professor William Webb, CEO of the Weightless SIG.
Bob Lockhart, lead analyst at Pike Research, added that this is "a transformative technology" that could "fundamentally change the rules of M2M communications".
"A chipset cost of less than $2 in volume and battery life in excess of ten years from a single primary cell as well as substantively lower network costs will enable the tens of billions of connected machines that we are forecasting over the next decade," he said.
However, Webb warned that there are still many months and a number of hurdles to go before Iceni reaches volume production.
"Neul will not be the only supplier of chipsets and Iceni will not be the fastest, cheapest or most powerful of the Weightless chips that emerge in due course. But it is the first, and that is special," he said.
Samples of the Iceni chip are available now to select partners to begin testing and development of new white space-enabled solutions.