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Should Google join 'white-space' radio?

Posted: 16 Jun 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Bluetooth? M2M? white-space radio? Internet-of-things?

James Collier and Glenn Collinson, founders of the startup Neul Ltd, is intent in leveraging much of their successful Bluetooth experience with Cambridge Silicon Radio in their next tilt at the marketwhite-space radio.

Neul's proposal is to use the unlicensed, and therefore financially free, radio spectrum in the range 400MHz to 800MHz that exists around digital television broadcast channels for machine-to-machine (M2M) communication networks. The company has patents pending on radio protocols that it reckons will allow the safe and legal use of these so-called white-space channels adjacent to the digital broadcasts. It has dubbed the accompanying putative standard as "Weightless."

It is interesting to note that Neul does not intend to be a fabless chip company as Cambridge Silicon Radio was. Perhaps the lesson there is that Collier and Collinson feel that more money was made with less effort by the originators of standard than by CSR, which quickly became one of the leading fabless chip company implementors of the standard.

Neul does intend to be a provider of infrastructure equipment and intellectual property. In that regard Collinson admits Neul wants to be more like an Ericsson or a Qualcomm. The additional wrinkle is that Neul intends to retain control of the application databases and traffic that flows over the M2M white-space radio network. The value is in the data and there is money to be made administering those databases and controlling access to the network.

It is also informative to look back at who were the founders of the Bluetooth special interest group in 1998. They were: Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Nokia and Toshiba. Ericsson was the primary inventor of the technology. Much debate at the time was around the absence of Microsoft from the party

When one considers the linking up of headsets with mobile phones and mobile phones with laptop computers was the first initial goal of Bluetooth it is clear why that cast of characters had a special interest in the short-haul radio link.

So who would be the equivalent players for a "Weightless" white-space radio special interest group?

The equivalent first application in white-space radio is smart metering for which there are government mandates in multiple territories. According to Luke D'Arcy, vice president of marketing at Neul, some 200 million smart meters will be installed across Europe over the next ten years. But clearly white-space radio M2M communications are not restricted to that but could be roll out quickly to electronic-point-of-sale, home automation and on to the Internet-of-things (IoT).

It therefore seems clear that a natural partner for Neul in this area is Google Inc.

Google is a master of the compilation and hosting of databases. It also has aspirations in terms of smart metering with its PowerMeter software. Google PowerMeter is a free piece of software that allows viewing of home energy consumption from a personalized iGoogle homepage. Other partners must include chip companies and why not CSR itself?

Having ridden the Bluetooth wave as far as it can CSR increasingly looking like a fabless chip company that could do with a new vision and new markets to conquer to drive it forward. One could also expect a telecommunications service provider, a natural customer for equipment, and an energy company to rise to this bait, which could pull in Vodafone and Electricite de France (EDF).

So on a purely speculative basis my guess at the five founders of the Weightless SIG are Neul, CSR, Electricite de France, Google and Vodafone. Of course that guarantees that there will be more than five founder members, or less, and these names may not be anywhere in sight. But if Weightless and Neul are to be a success when could expect players of a similar caliber to sign-up.

The remaining question is whether a small privately-held startup can continue to hold the ring when surrounded by these or similar heavyweights. That could become apparent by the end of September 2011 when Neul is planning to host the first Weightless SIG conference.

Peter Clarke
??EE Times

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