The following interview was carried out with Prof. William Webb on July 9th 2012 at Neul’s office in Cambridge.
Prof. William Webb, FREng, FIET, FIEEE, Neul Chief Technology Officer. Prior to joining Neul William was Director of Technology Resources at Ofcom, the UK Communications regulator. William joined Ofcom in 2003 where he managed a team providing technical advice and performing research across all areas of Ofcom’s regulatory remit. He also led major reviews conducted by Ofcom including the Spectrum Framework Review, the development of Spectrum Usage Rights and most recently cognitive or white space policy. Previously, William worked for a range of communications consultancies in the UK in the fields of hardware design, computer simulation, propagation modelling, spectrum management and strategy development. He is a Visiting Professor at Surrey University and DeMontfort University and a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the IEEE and the IET where he is a Vice President. His biography is included in multiple “Who’s Who” publications around the world. William has a first class honours degree in electronics, a PhD and an MBA.
What is it about Whitespace that particularly appropriate to M2M that legacy technologies cannot categorically deal with M2M?
Radio spectrum needed for a machine to machine system (M2M) with ubiquitous coverage to deal with smart metering must have the following characteristics;
- Firstly it should be relatively low frequency, ideally below1Ghtz which allows the necessary range to cover the country and to get deep inside houses without needing an enormous level of cells.
- Secondly a fair amount of spectrum is necessary, predictably in the order of the magnitude to handle 1 billion devices in the UK alone so that there is no capacity constraint.
- Thirdly it will need it to be colloquially harmonised to gain the economies of scale on the chip-sets to counter the price; there are lots of applications where global roaming is an important function as is asset tracking, automative and others.
- And finally the spectrum has to be inexpensive, ideally free otherwise the operator of any network would be lumbered with a big bill which is invariably passed onto the end users so it becomes expensive.
TV white space ticks all those boxes; its free, its below 1Ghz and it has the potential to be globally harmonised because the TV bands are globally harmonised. So TV Whitespace spectrum provides an enormous advantage to anybody with a M2M system which was not available before.
Is is true that Weightless is “Frequency Agnostic”?
TV Whitespace has two major characteristics. Access is unlicensed and in order to avoid interfering with TV receivers the transmissions have to be tightly controlled. Unlicensed spectrum is therefore tougher to control because the interference occurring at any point from an another unlicensed user. Certain safeguards are in place so this does occur, like blue-tooth which uses frequency hopping to jump across multiple frequencies.
Thus if a licensed technology which does not have the extra safeguard, is dropped into TV Whitespace the chances are that it wont operate very well because of interference. An example of this is Wi-Fi which, has been designed for unlicensed spectrum but the issue is to keep the radio emissions very tightly filtered and that is not something that Wi-Fi is designed to do. So Wi-Fi has been designed with relatively loose filters that allow a lot of out of band emissions so the data rates can be pushed quite high but that will make it very difficult to deploy in TV Whitespace. In conclusion TV Whitespace is effectively is the tighter restriction band.
Do you feel that there is any other standard that is a competitor?
No. There is not a single standard in the area of M2M communications that has been developed and as time goes on this becomes less likely. It become harder and harder for other standards to stand up as competitive.
The Technologies strategy Board (TSB) have put forward £24m for local government to develop a smart city. What is your role in the this?
Weightless does not have a formal role. A smart city typically comprises of a number of sensors that are located in strategic locations that might measure tracking lights for example and they need somewhere to link those sensors back to a control point such as a database which can then process the information. So a smart city is a collection of sensors linked via a communication technology to a database system which can act on the information received. And the only viable wireless technology to get information back from the sensors is Weightless.
What about privacy issues and control?
Weightless is providing a bit pipe from a sensor to a meter to a database. What is done with it consequently ie how the data is stored, processed will be up to the company utilising the technology. No doubt there will be privacy concerns in some applications but government regulation and company awareness will be able to deal with this.
M2M making decisions with out human interference. How far are we from this technology?
Weightless is designed from a human control perspective. So the embedded devices which communicate with central control are effectively dumb. If a situation occurs that an embedded device for example is “running too hot”, then it will simply send a message back to the central control point that “my bearings are very hot” and central control would send a message back to deal with the situation.
This has two advantages, low cost and low power usage.
The internet is designed in a way where there is no central control. So Weightless is building a network that has central control thus layering a network on a network. Is that the case?
The internet is a mechanism to send signals from base stations to a cloud processing point where decisions are taken. In as much we use the internet we simply use it as a communications back wall system so that we do not need any central processing there and we draw out data from the central processing node.
Can Weightless handle the projected 50 Billion devices as mentioned by Gerald Santucci?
This is the advantage of designing a system specifically for this application, we actually designed it for 50 billion devices and everything about systems being scaled are ready to cope with that. With the advent of this technology there is no real idea of how this technology will impact on society.