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Ofcom Details UK Framework to Support White Space Wireless Broadband

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012 (12:28 pm) - Score 538

Ofcom UK has today proposed a new framework to support the future use of White Space (IEEE 802.22) based wireless broadband technology on a licence exempt basis. The new service harnesses unused radio spectrum, which exists between Digital TV channels (470MHz to 790MHz), to deliver wifi style connectivity over a wide area.

The communications regulator said that its new framework was intended to help govern (regulatory requirements and technical specifications) the overall operation of white space devices in the United Kingdom and to ensure that “we can manage the risks of harmful interference to the existing users of the [Digital TV or Microphone spectrum]“.

The low frequency spectrum used by White Space tech is particularly useful because it travels further and more easily through walls, although TV channels and related radio spectrum policy do have a tendency to change. As a result any related devices would need to be “location-aware” and include the technically tedious ability to contact a remote database in order to adapt to the latest spectrum availability data for any given location.

Ed Richards, Ofcoms CEO, said:

From rural broadband to enhanced Wi-Fi, white space technology offers significant opportunities for innovation and enterprise in the UK.

It also represents a fundamentally different approach to using spectrum by searching and recycling unused gaps in the airwaves. This could prove critical in averting a global spectrum capacity crunch, as consumers demand more bandwidth over different devices.”

Ofcom added that such database-assisted operation could “also be a key enabling technology for the efficient and dynamic sharing of spectrum in a variety of frequency bands” beyond White Space, which is an interesting prospect for the future.

At the end of last year the Cambridge TV White Spaces Consortium (Arqiva, BBC, BSkyB, BT, Microsoft, Neul, Nokia, Samsung and Virgin Media) estimated that around 600,000 UK homes and businesses in isolated rural areas could potentially get broadband internet access via “cheapWhite Space solutions. It could also be used to enhance existing WiFi networks or for Machine-to-Machine communications (e.g. Smart Meters).

But so far the technology has yet to find its feet in any particular direction. White Space trials (here and here) conducted by BT and others have shown that the technology can work and does deliver broadband speeds of average quality (technically up to 22Mbps per channel) over a fairly wide area (around 10km), although there are no firm plans to adopt it for such purposes. Meanwhile Microsoft and Google would apparently prefer to use it as a free wifi service for Smartphones, although once again there are no firm plans.

Ofcom’s consultation will remain open until 10th January 2013 and only after that will we begin to see any clear direction for the commercial exploitation of White Space services. In theory the first services could then launch before 2014.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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