British Telecom

The Organisation

Global telecoms giant BT, formed in 1980, employs over 6,000 staff in the UK and has an annual turnover of over £18bn.

The Challenge

The TV spectrum is generally underused; gaps in the spectrum are known as TV white space (TVWS).   But non-TV signals too close in frequency to TV broadcasts can cause interference. BT wanted a better knowledge of what frequencies and transmitter powers they can use without this interference occurring.

TV white spaces have many potential uses, such as smart metering in the home; to provide an isolated rural community with wireless broadband, or to transmit live traffic information along busy highways.

Expertise Sought

  • Programming skills
  • Knowledge of probability theory
  • Knowledge of modern computer simulation programmes
  • Engineering knowledge

The Solution

Jamie Fairbrother, a Mathematics and Statistics PhD student, spent six months with BT on a research project looking at TVWSs. These are the parts of the TV broadcasting spectrum that are not being used in a particular location and can be used for different types of wireless communication, but only if care is taken to avoid interference.

Jamie's research developed a more accurate method of calculating the maximum transmission power that can be sent and received at specific locations than current methods, using probability theory, modern mathematical software, and simulation techniques.

The research was part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). KTP is a European programme helping businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base.


KTPs are funded by Innovate UK (formerly the Technology Strategy Board, TSB) with 12 other funding organisations. These funding organisations include research councils, the devolved administrations, and a number of other Government departments recognising the importance of knowledge transfer to economic development and wealth creation. Innovate UK is a business-led organisation established by the UK Government to accelerate research and development, and foster innovation for the benefit of UK business. BT made a contribution towards the six month KTP, which had a total value of £15,000.


BT’s engineers have begun implementation of real working TVWS systems. It is expected that the solution developed will inform the industry regulator (Ofcom) in setting up a regulatory framework for the use of whitespaces.

Benefits to the company

  • Utilisation of otherwise underused parts of the TV spectrum
  • Potential revenue from new wireless services

Benefits to the university

  • The development of a new simulation method

Benefits to society

  • Potential for improved rural broadband
  • Potential for more Wi-Fi hotspots in cities
  • Potential for improved road safety

Company Feedback

"This has been an excellent example of a research project which needed solid mathematical input, as well as engineering knowledge. We used probability theory, modern mathematical software, and simulation techniques to deliver an efficient algorithm which allowed the implementation of real working TVWS systems by BT engineers." Keith Briggs, Senior Research Mathematician, BT.

Student Feedback

"By participating in this project I have broadened my knowledge of probability theory, simulation and programming…It is particularly rewarding that my work is being used in a real trial of TV whitespaces, and could influence the Ofcom TVWS regulations." Jamie Fairbrother, PhD student, Mathematics and Statistics, Lancaster University, BT Intern.