40 jobs as Sheffield tech firm partners Microsoft on rural internet 

Mark Wheeler, founder of Whitespace Technology.
Mark Wheeler, founder of Whitespace Technology.

A Sheffield tech firm is creating 40 jobs in a deal with Microsoft to bring superfast internet to rural areas using television frequencies.

Whitespace Technology is now a ‘Microsoft Airband Initiative’ partner for Europe and Africa after the global tech giant saw the potential of the Sheffield company’s work.

Together, they will deliver the first commercial rollout of ‘affordable’ broadband on unused television frequencies.

A Whitespace spokeswoman said they planned to connect 20,000 people in the UK and 50,000 in Europe and Africa in the next two years.

Some 40 jobs will be created in Sheffield and a satellite office in Inverness.

Shelley McKinley, Microsoft’s head of technology and corporate responsibility, said: “We are excited to partner with Whitespace Technology to bring broadband to students, farmers, educators and business owners.”

Whitespace chief executive Mark Wheeler said: “We’re applying innovative technology to our legacy knowledge and using this to deliver life-changing services to communities all over the world.”

Based at the Innovation Centre, Portobello, Sheffield, the company says speeds of 50 Mbps are possible using gaps in the spectrum of television frequencies which became available following the big digital switchover in the four years to 2012.

The signal can travel up to six miles and ‘line of sight’ is not required between transmitter and aerial. Householders need a special aerial, made with another Sheffield firm, Blake UK. Sheffield University is also involved in research.

As part of the deal, Whitespace will provide infrastructure, products and services to get customers connected. Microsoft will use its cloud platform, Azure, as well as its global business development ability, marketing reach and 250 television whitespace patents.