Sharing spectrum at the ZSL London Zoo

Live video of meerkats, Asian otters and giant Galapagos tortoises from the world’s oldest zoo are coming to YouTube. The world loves to watch cute animal videos. This time, it’s also worth looking at the technology behind the videos.

Today, Google and ZSL London Zoo, opened on April 28, 1827, are launching a trial to test an innovative way of sharing spectrum to power these live video feeds. MediaTek and 6Harmonics are supplying the Wi-Fi equipment and devices being using during the trial.

Radio spectrum is a scarce resource. It is required every time we make a mobile phone call, use Wi-Fi, or listen to the radio. Spectrum is divided into different frequency bands to avoid interference between, say, a radio station and a mobile phone call. As more people go online and the number of wireless devices grows, so does the demand for spectrum.

Within the spectrum used for broadcast TV, there are unused parts which are commonly known as ‘TV White Spaces’ (or TVWS for short). This spectrum is helpful because it can travel longer distances and through physical barriers, providing wireless connectivity in places where other technology can’t — including the centre of one of the busiest cities in the world, in spots where the zoo would have normally needed a wired connection.

Because spectrum is scarce, policymakers and technology companies have been working on guidelines to help allow the shared use of White Spaces. Sharing spectrum in this way could open up many new opportunities for wireless innovation.

The UK is quickly becoming a pioneer of spectrum sharing, thanks to favorable regulation from Ofcom, which is responsible for managing spectrum. This is the first time that Google’s spectrum database is being used in the UK after being certified last year in the US. The database ensures that TVWS can be shared by multiple users without interference — one of the top goals of this trial. These contributions, in addition to the use of new devices that use standard Wi-Fi protocols, show that TVWS technology is gaining momentum around the world.

After testing the technology, the London Zoo is exploring other ways it can use TVWS to help monitor and protect endangered animals in the wild. Last year, the zoo won a Google Global Impact Award to help develop the Instant Wild system, which uses satellite cameras to provide instant alerts to rangers to help tackle the poaching of rhinos and elephants. We’re delighted that this trial can help power such innovations, bringing wireless connectivity to places where other options won’t work.