LONDON – It is clear that James Collier and Glenn Collinson, two of the founders of startup Neul Ltd., intend to leverage much of their successful Bluetooth experience with Cambridge Silicon Radio in their next tilt at the market.
Neul's proposal is to use the unlicensed, and therefore financially free, radio spectrum in the range 400-MHz to 800-MHz that exists around digital television broadcast channels for machine-to-machine communication networks. It 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 (Cambridge, England) 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
And 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.
Actually, the FCC is defining the rules around the utilization of white space. It is very different than the typical ISR bands. There is still the possibility of a "Tragedy of the Commons" problem, though, if commercial utilization of white space threatens someone's business model. I could imagine, for example, Verizon or AT&T flooding this spectrum with a busy signal of sorts if it threatened their monopoly of the airwaves.
Neul remains confident that as long as the digital TV broadcasts stay they wont be bumped out. However, i would be less confident that the spectrum will remain free to use.
Death and taxes remain pre-eminent so if Neul does create a multi-billion dollar industry you can expect governments will come sniffing. Just like they are beginning to sniff again at the Internet.
It is true that where analog television is being cleared completely out the way that spectrum is being re-assigned.
But Neul is attempting to use the same frequencies used by digital television broadcasts but avoids the particular frequency band used by those digital TV broadcasts in a particular geographic area.
There is a requirement on anybody that uses these so-called "white space" channels not to interfere with the digital broadcasts and that is a non-trivial radio communications exercise, so I am told.
What are the communications protocols within the unused 400 MHz to 800 MHz spectrum? If it is an unlicensed free-for-all, it would see that there would be a risk of incompatible interfering signals. Also, wasn't one purpose of moving from analog to digital TV (and shutting down analog TV) to open up new bandwidth for necessary services? It seems surprising that the bandwidth would be unregulated. Is it just a matter of time before standards and assignments develop and Neul's "Weightless" gets bumped out?