Thoughts from Connected Britain

June 26, 2017

Recently I attended the Connected Britain conference in London. The gathering attracted more than 300 stakeholders to discuss ‘high speed connectivity for Britain’s future’, an area of interest for Nominet and relevant to our work on TV white space (TVWS).

During the conference, there was resounding agreement that the UK is currently facing a challenge regarding connectivity; ‘connecting the last 5%’ was a crucial topic for discussion throughout the two days. If we are unable to provide connectivity to all, the UK will not have the digital backbone to embrace new innovations such as Smart Cities, IoT and even driverless cars.

However, the issue isn’t only about enabling technology of the future – we need to improve the connectivity of today too.  Superfast broadband is defined as 30mbps, but only 89% of all UK homes and only 59% of rural dwellings can access these speeds. This impacts on residents’ ability to browse, shop, bank or do business online – all the things we take for granted with a reliable connection.

The exact numbers that make up the ‘last 5%’ may be a point of disagreement but, regardless of the breakdown, it’s clear that the UK has an issue that needs to be addressed. Although rural communities are the crux of connectivity challenges, every local authority nationwide is struggling and almost all have established connectivity as a priority to ensure no one is left out of the digital loop.

At the conference, there seemed to be a consensus that Britain should be aiming for full fibre roll-out to every corner of the UK. However clear the vision, there was uncertainty over the practicality, cost and timescales for a full fibre roll-out. One of the panellists at the ‘Rural access: The issue that isn’t going away’ session proudly stated that “we can connect every community in the UK by 2030”. Great news for the remotest of our rural communities in the long run, but having to wait another thirteen years is unacceptable; we must look at solutions that can be delivered today.

At Nominet, we have been investigating the merits of TVWS as a wireless solution for hard to reach places. This technology uses the frequencies freed up from analogue TV in the digital switcher over and doesn’t require line of sight to connect. The signal can also travel long distances, making it’s a great option for those hilly or mountainous terrains. TVWS is not a new solution but has only recently been commercialised due to new regulations from Ofcom. These new regulations allow anyone to access these valuable frequencies without a license, although the TVWS equipment is coordinated through a central database. Here’s how it works:

TVWS_howitworks

TVWS is extremely useful for connecting rural areas and in some cases the only viable solution for communities to get broadband. Nominet is working with Broadway Partners to deliver broadband through TVWS on the Scottish isle of Arran and on projects in Wales and other parts of Scotland. We are also working with Microsoft to deploy TVWS internationally. As a solution to existing connectivity issues that can be deployed today, TVWS is an exciting prospect and something that conference attendees were intrigued to hear about.

If you want to find out more about TVWS, download our brochure, or get in touch and we can put you in contact with a network provider.