Zoo Livestreams Are Taking Over Unused Gaps in the Broadcast Spectrum

A new London Zoo trial could help show how "white spaces" can bring wireless connectivity to rural communities.

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Oct 10 2014, 11:50am

Bored of armchair penguinology? That's probably impossible, but if you fancy a bit of variety in your living room wildlife watching, a new project featuring some of the inhabitants of London Zoo has you covered.

The BBC reports that the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is working Google and regulators at Ofcom to stream live video of meerkats, Galapagos tortoises, and oriental short-clawed otters to YouTube.

It's all a bit of fun for lazy zoo visitors who want to check up on their favourite animals without making the trek, and Ofcom explains that the pilot is also trialling the tech for potential future monitoring that could be used in conservation efforts in the wild.

But there's also a more technical purpose to the trial; it uses TV "white spaces." These white spaces are parts of the broadcast spectrum that remain unused—the gaps in the airwaves used for TV broadcasting. Ofcom has been conducting pilot trials to test how these white spaces could be put to use, of which the zoo collaboration is the latest.

Where Google comes in is the use of its spectrum database, which is part of its attempt to make more spectrum available. The database is being used to make sure the meerkat cams don't impinge on spectrum being used by someone else.

ZSL explains that using white space is perfect for their project—better than alternatives like wifi—because the low frequency signals are able to penetrate obstacles and travel longer distances. As a result, a camera surrounded by rocks, shrubs, and buildings can transmit without a problem.

What that also means is that TV white spaces could be ideal to bring wireless connections to rural or poorly connected communities, and  Ofcom said it "expects the technology could be rolled out during 2015."

In the meantime, we get to play zoologist via videocam. The only disadvantage is that the livestream might not quite hold the attention of the YouTube generation: When I took a glimpse this morning, I saw an empty otter enclosure, a garden devoid of tortoises, and just the flicker of a meerkat tail disappearing out of shot.