Tag Archives: White Space

An Interview with Glenn Collinson Co-founder of Neul

The following interview was carried out with Glenn Collinson on July 9th 2012 at Neul’s office in Cambridge. 

Glenn Collinson – Board Member, Chairman of the Strategy Committee. Glenn Collinson is a co‐founder of CSR and helped to manage its growth from a start‐up in 1998 to its listing as a public company in 2004. He retired from the Board of CSR in 2007. Glenn was a non‐executive director of Sonaptic Ltd from April 2005 until its sale to Wolfson in July 2007. Glenn currently holds positions as a non‐executive director of DiBcom SA, Inside Contactless SA and Wolfson Microelectronics plc. Prior to co-founding CSR, Glenn held senior positions at Cambridge Consultants Ltd. (1996‐1998) and Marketing Manager at Texas Instruments (1989‐1996). He is a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and holds a B.Sc. in Physics and an M.Sc. in Electronics from Durham University, as well as an MBA from Cranfield University.

What is Neul’s mission?

 Neul is a complement of two great ideas which makes for a really great company, the ideas being on the one hand the use of TV White Space spectrum and the second M2M (machine to machine) communications.  This encompasses our mission statement – The Internet of Everything.

Would you see the terminology of the Internet of Things being changed to the “Internet of Everything” ?

Possibly.  That would be a natural progression. The internet of Everything is all encompassing and Neul’s present focus is on M2M which we are very good at but the technology will also be used to connect people as well.

Could you expand on this when you say for connecting people, can you explain?

 Starting with the topic of white space, this is the biggest change in the field of wireless communications since 3G with over 100 MHz of prime spectrum now available in the band that would have been chosen for cellular telephony had it been available 30 years ago.  This is ideal spectrum for long range wireless communications and is now available for free today in the US. This availability will be closely followed by the UK in 2013 catalysed with Weightless’ seal of approval from Ofcom this year.

The train has essentially left the station, with the UK’s liberalisation which will be closely followed by the European Union in 2014.  TV white space is a homolgated band meaning that the majority of the worlds TV broadcasters operate in the same spectrum – 100MHz to 700MHz.  So once there is a proven business model and a technology demand, there will be a key driver to adopt the same regulatory approach (worldwide).

The use of TV white space is a gigantic subsidy (in the order of $10 billion) effectively to the technology industry compared to the costs of licensed spectrum. A case in point is the £21m auction for 3G spectrum as an example.

Neul has the only few fully functional radio TV white space units which can be used for the Internet of Everything.  The biggest trial so far for TV white space operation  in the world was conducted between June 2011 and April 2012 in the UK by a consortium of cross industry groups.  The industries represented include the Broadcast Industry with BSkyB and BBC, the Telecommunications Industry, with BT,  the Technology World with Samsung and Nokia and finally Microsoft which was a key sponsor from a publicity and organisational perspective.

So this large group of companies partnered with Neul to design a  trial effectively equipping the City of Cambridge in the UK with white space coverage utilising several base stations.  A number of extensive tests were carried out to determine that that the use of this spectrum did not interfere with the TV and wireless microphones which are prime users of this band.  Significant detailed analysis was carried out with TV detector vehicles driving around Cambridge looking for whether the use of this network caused any problems with TV signals.

The results of the analysis were conclusive in the that the technology is benign and does not interfere with the other prime users as long as the Geo Location methodology approach is adopted.  With this positive outcome legislation will be passing through parliament later this year making it fully legal to use TV white space for machine to machine applications.

For a rural trial a base station was installed at Melbourn, a rural community south of Cambridge, and linked to a household in Orwell.  Residents in the hamlet were able to achieve download speeds of up to  8Mbps over a distance of 5.5 kilometres.  The result was successful with no break in service which has led Neul for its first commercial take up of Fixed Broadband Service in the US which will be rolled out in the UK in 2013.

You mentioned about Geolocation database, could you explain what you mean about that?

 The use of TV white space has been the debated for quite along time.  People have been aware of the very inefficient use of this spectrum and the increase in demand for mobile data has brought this into sharp focus.

The initial idea was based on cognitive radio either smart radio which would sense what signals were out there and  adjust in real time to avoid interfering with the prime users.  This proved to be a too significant a technological challenge and an alternative method was adopted using a Geo Location database.  This in essence is a central repository or knowledge base of all the prime users for the TV band (its a record of all the TV transmitters recorded in one database, ie their location, polarisation and power levels).  The database also includes other users in particular wireless microphones.

Will M2M usage affect people directly?

It is true to say that a person will not be able to purchase a M2M unit from a retail store.  Neul’s core technology is first of all a radio that works well in white space but it is deeper than that. Neul is bringing to the values of short range communication (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC) to long range communications. Neul’s technology is characterised by lower cost, a dollar or so silicon on the radio, very low power, so that the batteries work for a very long time (up to ten years) and as a result of that can be deeply embedded into many, many devices.

We are bringing that “core ethos”  to the world of long range communications and the basic methodology to do that is to use a spread spectrum technique, that is spread the signal out in time such that the power levels at which  one needs to transmit are reduced significantly without compromising the long range capability.

 “In a nut shell, Neul’s radios will cost a couple of dollars, they will work for 10 years off a small primary battery that does not need to be recharged and yet they will still transmit up to 10 kilometres.”

 That dramatic statement is the logical value add that Neul is bringing to the table.  There has been a massive technological barrier that has held back the the world of M2M communications. Neul has now addressed that.

When you mean everything, does that mean that if I lose my car keys I will be able to find them again using Google?

 Absolutely.  Effectively you will never lose your car keys again and why stop at that.  Never lose anything again.  The size of the device would be in the order of a key fob in a couple of years time which includes the chip, external electronics and the battery.

You will need a location based capability as well in there but with the cost of GPS coming down it wont be a problem. And then with the final icing on the cake, we can build into the Weightless specification an Indoor Location capability.  It wont be very finely tuned but it it will be a complementary technology in that the Weightless technology can triangulate and get a fix on any terminal through a Weightless base station to within 100m or so.

How can commercial companies use this technology?

 The real low hanging fruit is logistics, that is asset tracking whilst in transit outdoor.  There is a trial that is being carried in Cambridge,  over the summer holidays in which we have fitted our terminals into a local company’s trucks to demonstrate that we can accurately monitor their location with Weightless base stations.

Can you explain further the statement of “Internet of Everything”?

 Internet of everything rules nothing out and this has started with Neul’s roll out of fixed broad band communication in the US, and the major paradigm change for people would be with M2M internet of things unlocked by this revolution in the core technology via the ability to fit these very low cost, long battery life devices into everything.

Alongside with asset tracking there are thousands of industries that can use this connectivity.  Smart Cities with a parking lot, smart traffic with a  real time view of traffic and smart pollution monitoring to get a real time view of  where there is a problem.

Another application would be in disaster monitoring where an immediate real time assessment is priority. Our sensors can be dropped from the air via helicopter and have them give an instantaneous, real time view of key factors such as, temperature, flooding water levels and radiation.

And finally, the ageing society in the West is a great theme.  Neul’s high quality communication devices can be easily and cheaply embedded into home medical devices to help monitor sick people in the safety of their homes.

Effectively what we do is to democratise the availability to communications.

What about competitors?  Would you see Microsoft as a direct competitor?

 There is no other company doing exactly the same thing as Neul and on that basis there are no direct competitors.  Microsoft is not a competitor but seen as an enabler particularly through their “Geo Location  database” applicability.

Microsoft do take to a longer term view of how standards evolve and will tend to back standards that are intrinsic to enabling more connectivity.  Therefore Microsoft would view white space as a core enabler for more communications and therefore more value added to whom they are selling to.

In conclusion 2G and 3G are not sustainable for the M2M arena. White space offers the platform for Neul and Weightless to succeed.

Smart City – A Dream Turning into Reality in the UK

There have been various futuristic authors that have highlighted the advent of the Internet of Things in a world where computers and sensors would be embedded in every thing, be able to “talk” to each other in self-adapting networks and do useful tasks without human intervention. But it seems now that this dream is becoming reality.

To facilitate this massive task there have been a number of initiatives in place. An example of such an initiative has been driven by The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), working on creating open standards for M2M communications in advance of the European Smart Metering Mandate M/441. This mandate requires the installation of millions of communicating meters for electricity, gas, water, and heat over the coming years, followed by the development of Smart Grid applications.

 In October 2012, ETSI’s M2M Technical Committee will be releasing an M2M software standard that can support multiple vertical M2M applications. And in the UK, the Technology Strategy Board announced a £5m Internet of Things initiative beginning with a series of workshops and the launch of a Special Interest Group this summer.

 This will be followed by investments in feasibility studies, research and development projects and pilots, coinciding with the release of the ETSI M2M standard. However these ongoing initiatives would be of little benefit if the practical applications are not secure, be power super efficient and not overwhelm the existing networks by constantly reporting their status.

But it seems that Neul, a Cambridge based company has ticked all the requirements for a practical rollout of M2M implementation using “White Space” digital TV spectrum. With Cambridge as its “Test City” it seems that Neul is well ahead of its competitors which in turn has prompted the UK government to urge local authorities to submit blueprints for turning their cities into “smart cities” by integrating transport, communications and other city infrastructure, for the chance to win £24 million of government investment.

.The Future Cities Demonstrator programme, run by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), aims to kickstart the market for integrated city systems, which is estimated to be worth £200 billion a year by 2030. The government has already lent its support to smart city schemes driven by Intel and Living PlanIT, but this is the first time it will offer financial support for such a project.

Local governments and local authorities are being invited to bid for one of twenty £50,000 grants to carry out a feasibility study to develop their demonstrator project proposal. The cities that complete the feasibility study will then be invited to submit a proposal for the large scale demonstrator, and one successful city will be awarded £24 million funding to implement their proposal

Cambridge (UK), Smart City and Neul

Introduction

In April this year Neul, the wireless pioneer  announced the deployment of the world’s first city-wide, fully functional wireless network in white space which would enable a whole host of smart city applications in Cambridge.

This was in collaboration with BGlobal in which they show cased the first ever smart electricity meter reading over a white space network. This was the initial step towards smart grids facilitating electricity supply to be more efficiently matched to real time demand.

Along side to this Neul’s network opens up a number of fascinating possibilities like smarter transport and traffic management, city lighting and other municipal services. The city of the future is being delivered through a new wireless standard called ‘Weightless’ specifically designed for embedding in electricity and gas meters, air quality sensors, recycling points, street lighting, parking spaces and traffic lights.

What is White Space?

What is White Space? White space is the unused and underused parts of the wireless spectrum which were originally used by TV channels and are left vacant in most locations. Neul’s technology opens up these channels and will also allow underused frequencies within other UHF licensed and unlicensed bands to be used efficiently for wireless communication.

Neul’s network is built on the successful completion of the first phase of the Cambridge White Space Consortium’s network. The consortium’s phase one network used Neul’s equipment and cloud interface, together with the Weightless communications standard, which has prove that its white space network co-exists perfectly with televisions and wireless microphones without causing interference or disruption. It is anticipated now that the full roll out scheduled of this technology is 2013 which would make Cambridge the first smart city in the world.

Glenn Collinson, co-founder and director at Neul, said: “In a world of smart phones and mobile broadband it is easy to imagine that wireless connectivity has now been solved.

It hasn’t. Mobile broadband is too expensive for ‘things’ in the smart city. Also mobile broadband means battery powered devices would need changing far too often. And all those sensors would load the cellular networks to such a level that there would be little network capacity left.

Mobile networks are great for people but terrible for machines. At Neul we have demonstrated that the smart city can happen now through Weightless.”

Backing of Ofcom

Ofcomm has backed the technological and regulatory push for mass white space implementation in the UK. It stated that;

What the industry requires now is a ‘kick start’ of rapid regulatory turnaround for the common good, rapid occupation of the spectrum, and deployment of machine-to-machine white space standards and technology to demonstrate use cases.”

Ofcom CEO, Ed Richards told a EU Policy debate in Brussels that white space was now a priority for Ofcom. He stressed the importance of moving regulation to a point where companies can occupy the spectrum as a means of demonstrating the worth of dynamic spectrum access, and of propelling the industry forwards.

Alongside this backing Weightless who is steering the machine to machine communication standard for the white space spectrum is signing up members and has the innovation that regulators are seeking to stimulate momentum in delivery of white space solutions. Weightless expects to see white space M2M standards and network infrastructure in place by 2013, if not the end of 2012.

Building an Internet of Things with 50 Billion Devices

Pervasive, ubiquitous computing is a trend that is catalysing technologists worldwide to realise this vision. In order for this vision to become to full fruition a number of underlying technologies need to work in harmony. Consider this quote:

The number of devices connected to and by the Internet is expected to range between 16 and 50 billion in 2020, depending on the definition of ‘device’ that is retained. Fleet and freight management, security/surveillance, transport and mobility, vending/payment terminals, smart metering and grids, industrial processes, etc. are all areas where connected devices will help to improve standards of living and provide new solutions for enabling the enterprise of tomorrow and for addressing global challenges.

Gérald Santucci, DG INFSO, Head of unit: Networked Enterprise and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

Building the Internet of Things

As I mentioned in my last post, startup Neul is pushing ahead with M2M communications, enabling connectivity between devices over cellular or satellite networks with a new, open M2M communications standard entitled “Weightless” to harmonise connectivity of devices. M2M communication is essentially a subset of IoT, where active communication devices are set to transmit data over a network. The concept is now being leveraged to connect all devices, regardless if they are communication devices or not. The technologies used alongside M2M communications to push IoT forward include sensors, intelligent networks, RFID, and cloud computing, with the aim of reaching true ubiquity.

And with new technologies comes new business models; with the advent of Web 2.0 and relevant technologies, the pressure to expand the customer base is constantly increasing. Most companies providing Web-based services are looking at a service oriented architecture (SOA) approach, which would allow IoT to open up a new path for service providers to collate separate solutions and design a system that can reach a wider range of consumers.

With the development of IoT, countries and organisations will need to be environmentally aware in a world where energy consumption is one of the most important global concerns in today’s world. The consumption of natural resources needs to be kept in check to step closer to a greener future. IoT enables energy and resource conservation in many ways. With sensors to monitor each and every device in the world, a significant amount of detailed information on energy consumption in various applications can be collected. Necessary steps can be taken to regulate resource usage based on this information. Hence IoT is expected to work at a global level in reducing the depletion of natural energy resources. Of course, in order for this to be practical, sensing elements designed with smaller footprints is an essential requirement. With the advent of nano-technology this need is being fulfilled.

Key Challenges to a Pervasive Future

Alongside key industry drivers, there are a number of steep challenges facing IoT. As IoT evolves, the convergence of a wide variety of technologies from sensors to semantics, and from RFID to cloud computing, the resultant system becomes heterogeneous in nature. All these devices and technologies need to be managed effectively in order to ensure maximum performance and reliability is achieved. However the vastness of these connected devices makes IoT a complex architecture. Advanced network management technologies, such as distributed repositories, self healing networks and managed services are being researched in order to address this change.

It is also predicted that the number of devices connected over the Internet would be so large that the existing networking infrastructure may be inadequate to handle the load. Further, there would be issues in creating address spaces for all the devices that are connected. The huge amount of data that is expected to flow from these devices may also cause a strain on the current networking infrastructure. However, with advances in wireless technologies and cellular infrastructure, this challenge may be problematic in the long term (5-7 years).

With the mobility of the larger number of connected ‘things’, a significant number of security concerns arise. Although security issues in networking infrastructure have been largely addressed over the years, issues still remain in other technologies, such as cloud computing, where a large amount of data is collected and stored from billions of devices. The heterogeneity of the entire system further complicates security concerns, as certain devices may require a higher degree of encryption than others. Privacy needs to be maintained in human-device interaction and the confidentiality of shared organisational data must be protected. Technologies revolving around access control and restricted use of data are being utilised to solve this problem.

The idea of being ubiquitously connected through every device may sound appealing to a small group of people; however, the masses are still sceptical about the practicality of IoT. Socially it is still unacceptable to large groups of people that everything in their surrounding should be connected. Several educational approaches are being considered in order to publicise the benefits of IoT to society at large. This challenge is also linked to the technical challenge of privacy issues. Once the privacy and anonymity challenges are addressed the technical advances, such as access control and encryption, it may be easier to ensure wider social acceptance of IoT.