Ofcom has given the go-ahead for the use of white space spectrum in existing TV frequency bands to boost the available wireless networks in the UK.
The move comes after successful trials in October using white space technology. This included streaming live videos of meerkats, Asian otters and giant Galapagos tortoises at London Zoo to YouTube, and real-time flood defence measurements in Oxford.
White space technology uses 'gaps' in spectrum bands that are otherwise set aside for specific uses. The set of spectrum now approved for white use sits in the 470MHz to 790MHz range.
This is currently used for TV broadcasting and 'programme making and special events', usually live music or similar.
However, not all of the spectrum is ever in use at any one time and white space devices are able to latch onto the unused spectrum frequencies and broadcast data.
A ‘white space database’ (WSDB) dynamically tells the device which spectrum is available and at what power levels it can broadcast.
These databases are run independently of Ofcom, subject to testing and approval from the regulator. Spectrum Bridge, Nominet, NICT, Fairspectrum, Google, Sony, Iconectiv and Microsoft have so far achieved WSDB approval.
Organisations will now be able to apply to create WSDBs in other locations, helping to widen the scope of white space use.
The image below gives an example of the system in operation.
Other trials of white space technology include work by the University of Strathclyde, Microsoft, Spectrum Bridge and Sky looking into triple-band WiFi to boost connections in rural areas in Scotland.
The use of white space to bring WiFi to passenger ferries in the Orkney Islands and Pentland Firth, where no such services were available, has also been tested.
The opening up of white space services is a vital move in ensuring that the UK can keep pace with mobile data demands, according to Philip Marnick, Ofcom spectrum group director.
“Spectrum is an important but limited resource, which is why we’re exploring new ways of unlocking its potential while balancing the needs of different users," he said.
Professor Simon Saunders from independent wireless firm Real Wireless told V3 that it is impressive that Ofcom has managed to find a way to create dynamic spectrum sharing.
“The UK is leading the way on this in Europe. Most of Europe is slow or sceptical about white space, but the fact that the UK has done it on the spectrum used for digital TV is quite an achievement,” he said.
However, Saunders noted that the UK has developed its white space technology around different rules from those in the US, which could make it hard for firms to develop products that work in different markets.
Furthermore, although the spectrum now open for use in the 470MHz and 790MHz range is some of the most powerful, hence why it is used for TV services, the fact that white space devices face power restrictions somewhat negates this benefit.
Nevertheless, Saunders said that it is welcome and will support innovative developments, particularly in rural areas.
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