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Ofcom outlines plans for white space spectrum use by 2013

22 Nov 2012
Mobile spectrum antenna

Ofcom has published proposals which could see white space technology services arrive before the end of 2013, as the regulator looks for means to boost the capacity of the UK's airwaves.

White space technology works by allowing devices to access gaps in spectrum between more ‘official' bands used for TV or phone services. Ofcom has said in the past it was considering allowing the use of the gaps without the need for a licence.

On Thursday Ofcom published its white space proposal for consultation, along with a draft example of the legislation needed to make such requirements possible.

The consultation will be open until 10 January, 2013, after which Ofcom will finalise its proposals before submitting them to the European Commission. If these achieve approval, Ofcom said there was the possibility of having the services live by the end of 2013.

The use of white space could help offer improved Wi-Fi services by using lower frequency spectrums between 470MHz and 790MHz, boosting rural broadband by linking locations together via transmitters running over white space spectrum and driving machine to machine communication services.

"[White space] represents a fundamentally different approach to using spectrum by searching and recycling unused gaps in the airwaves," said Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards.

"This could prove critical in averting a global spectrum capacity crunch, as consumers demand more bandwidth over different devices."

Daniel Gleeson, an analyst with IHS Screen Digest, told V3 that he would be cautious on a 2013 launch date for white space services, though, given the risk of interference with TV signals.

"It will only be deployed if Ofcom is 100 percent certain there won't be any issues with TV coverage, so it may be that it has to put out some strict power requirements and we'll need more trials like those in Cambridge before we see it live," he said.

Nevertheless, Gleeson said white space had a role to play in the UK's digital infrastructure, citing its usefulness for machine to machine systems to access networks and the ability to improve Wi-Fi coverage.

"We're seeing there are so many Wi-Fi hotspots it can cause interference, so by freeing up more spectrum in the lower frequencies, as more advanced technologies hit the market like 802.11a/c arrive, it could give much faster speeds and a wider coverage area."

To date several firms have expressed an interest in using white space technology, with trails by major firms such as Nokia, Samsung and Microsoft all taking place in the UK and proving successful.

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Dan Worth

Dan Worth is the news editor for V3 having first joined the site as a reporter in November 2009. He specialises in a raft of areas including fixed and mobile telecoms, data protection, social media and government IT. Before joining V3 Dan covered communications technology, data handling and resilience in the emergency services sector on the BAPCO Journal

View Dan's Google+ profile

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