Cambridge-based wireless firm Neul has secured an additional $5 million (£3.1m) in equity funding for its wide-area network technology dedicated to machine-to-machine (M2M) traffic.

Neul – whose networks are designed to operate in the so-called “white space” frequencies left over in the TV spectrum – has also attracted Japanese trading firm Mitsui & Co. Global (MGI) as a new investor. Existing shareholders include DFJ Esprit, IQ Capital, Business Angels and founding employees.

Neul said in a statement that it is important for the company to attract investors like MGI, who can help it to develop its strategic and operational activities around the world, particularly in Asia.

“The scale and breadth of their activities will be of great benefit to us,” said James Collier, CEO and Founder of Neul.

White space for M2M

White space is the term used to describe the unused and under-used parts of the ultra-high frequency (UHF) spectrum, where TV channels are left vacant. Neul’s software allows these frequencies to be used for wireless communication.

According to Neul, mobile broadband technology is too expensive to be used for M2M communications. The number of sensors required to enable Smart Cities would also load the cellular networks to such an extent that there would be little network capacity left.

Neul's “Weightless” wireless standard – backed by ARM, Cable & Wireless and CSR – is specifically designed for embedding in objects such as electricity and gas meters, air quality sensors, recycling points, street lighting, parking spaces and traffic lights.

By enabling these objects to communicate over cheaper spectrum, Neul hopes to make the “Internet of Things” a reality.

Earlier this year, Neul launched the world’s first city-wide white space network in Cambridge, designed to enable a whole host of Smart City applications, such as smart electricity meter reading, smart transport and traffic management, city lighting and other municipal services.

The network is made up of six base stations, a cloud-hosted network operational and management centre that manages the communications between the internet and the ‘things’, and support for multiple geo-location databases that ensure wireless microphones, TV transmission and reception is not disrupted.

The $5 million investment announced today will help fund the development of Neul’s software towards full-scale production and commercial deployment, including its planned networks in the UK, US and Singapore, the company said.

Closing the digital divide

Neul's white space technology is not only used for M2M traffic but also helps mobile operators provide coverage in rural areas. Due to its outstanding propagation characteristics, UHF signals can travel through walls and other obstacles, so line of sight is not needed to the subscriber's home.

In March, Neul and its American hardware partner Carlson launched the first commercially available white space radio system created for Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) in the US.

Neul and Carlson claim that their product, RuralConnect, gives users up to 16 Mbps of bandwidth for each available vacant TV channel, enabling WISPs to offer superior coverage over wide areas with limited base-station sites.

It also enables the transfer of more data at higher data rates, driving additional revenue with minimal additional investment, according to Neul.

In other news, it was reported today that both Microsoft and Google are in discussions with the UK government about acquiring licences for white space spectrum.

According to The Telegraph, the two technology giants have expressed “extreme interest” in the unexploited airwaves, which they could use to provide widespread broadband access, giving them a competitive advantage over Apple.