Whitespaces for Wildlife

A group of otters at ZSL London Zoo

Trialling innovative TV whitespace technology at ZSL London Zoo for conservation

Between October 2014 and February 2015, ZSL and Google ran a trial to test the use of TV whitespaces (TVWS) – unused channels in the broadcast TV spectrum – at ZSL London Zoo. The trial has successfully shown that TVWS can be used to provide wireless connectivity over a large area and in non-line-of-sight scenarios. This exciting technology has huge potential to deliver fast internet to ZSL’s remote conservation sites and help monitor wildlife globally.

The pilot consisted of cameras and TVWS radios installed at the otter, meerkat and Galapagos tortoise enclosures within the Zoo. Live footage from each enclosure was transmitted using TVWS technology to a base station and then streamed live onto ZSL’s YouTube channel. Members of the public were able to tune in to the live feeds and watch the animals anytime, anywhere. The live feeds were hugely popular with over 260,000 individual views. 

ZSL and Google have proved that TVWS can efficiently transmit high quality video wirelessly without causing interference to other channels in the spectrum. This was done by utilising Google’s spectrum database which identifies available whitespace.

The trial was the first step in understanding how ZSL can effectively use TVWS to support its field conservation projects. ZSL will now be focusing its efforts on how to embed TVWS radios in the remote sensing devices used in the field such as camera traps and animal trackers to help monitor wildlife. A particular area of interest is integrating TVWS into ZSL’s Instant Wild remote surveillance system to enhance data transmission range.  

Project goals achieved:

  • Demonstrate that TVWS can deliver wireless connectivity in places where other technologies may not work without causing interference to TV broadcast.
  • Provide an exciting viewing experience of some of ZSL London Zoo’s favourite inhabitants and engage the public in technology for conservation.
  • Explore how TVWS technology could be used in worldwide conservation projects to help protect endangered species.


What are TV whitespaces?
TV whitespaces are unused radio waves (known as spectrum) within the TV broadcasting range (470 MHz to 790 MHz). Dynamic spectrum sharing using Google’s spectrum database means that available whitespace can be identified to avoid interfering with other services.

What makes this technology special?
The low frequency of TVWS signals means that they can travel longer distances and better penetrate obstacles than other types of signals such as cellular. This has huge potential to improve the range and quality of Wi-Fi hotspots and provide low cost connectivity to communities with poor telecommunications infrastructure.

Why not use other wireless connectivity options?
The three cameras placed in animal enclosures were spread right across the zoo and mostly obstructed by trees and buildings which meant they would have traditionally required a wired internet connection. However TVWS signals are able to penetrate foliage and buildings to establish a fast data connection capable of streaming high quality video to YouTube. ZSL is particularly excited about this technology as TVWS has the potential to provide long distance connectivity to remote conservation sites which often have limited cellular reception and connection options.


Camera trap in Antartica

Instant Wild

Instant Wild is an advanced remote surveillance and wildlife monitoring system.

Project partners

Project partners:

  • Google: technical and logistical coordinator of the trial
  • Ofcom: Licence provider
  • 6Harmonics: TVWS radio system provider
  • MediaTek:  Prototype TVWS radio system testing
  • Virtua: System installer

Project leads:

  • Alasdair Davies, Technical Specialist
  • Louise Hartley, Project Manager