The UK telecommunications regulator Ofcom has today (26 April 2013) announced plans for a pilot of innovative ‘white space’ technology in the UK, among the first of its kind in Europe.
The technology uses gaps in radio spectrum, called ‘white spaces’, which exist in between frequency bands. In this instance, these bands have been reserved for digital terrestrial TV broadcasting and wireless microphones.
Use of these white spaces will allow devices to transmit and receive wireless signals for applications such as broadband access for rural communities, Wi-Fi-like services or new ‘machine-to-machine’ networks.
Ofcom is inviting industry to take part in the pilot, which is intended to take place in the autumn. The locations for the trial will be chosen once trial participants have been identified.
Following a successful completion of the pilot, Ofcom anticipates that the technology could be fully rolled out during 2014, enabling the use of white space devices across the country.
White space technology will be one way of meeting the growing demand for data in the UK. Ofcom is separately planning to free up more spectrum2 in the future for the next generation of high-speed data services, already dubbed ‘5G’. This follows the successful completion of the 4G mobile spectrum auction in February 2013.
Plans to pilot the use of white space technology were announced by Ofcom today at an event for industry stakeholders. The pilot will test the inter-operation of white spaces devices, white space databases and the processes to mitigate against causing any undue interference to current spectrum users.
Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive, said: ‘Ofcom is preparing for a future where consumers’ demand for data services will experience huge growth. This will be fuelled by smartphones, tablets and other new wireless applications.
‘White space technology is one creative way that this demand can be met. We are aiming to facilitate this important innovation by working closely with industry.”
Why white spaces?
Ofcom’s planned pilot will use the white spaces that exist between airwaves reserved for digital terrestrial TV broadcasting.
Compared with other forms of wireless technologies, such as regular Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, the radio waves used by white space devices will be able to travel longer distances and more easily through walls. This is because they would use the lower frequencies that have traditionally been reserved for TV.
Under Ofcom’s plans, a TV white space device will not be able to start transmitting until it gets clearance from a database qualified by Ofcom and listed on a dedicated Ofcom website. This database will provide updated information on where the TV white spaces are and the power level that devices would need to be restricted to if they wanted to use them. This will help ensure that there is no undue interference with the existing spectrum users.
Spectrum itself is a limited resource that is in huge demand, driven by the explosion in smartphones, tablets and other wireless applications. White space devices offer a creative and efficient way to use spectrum that would otherwise lie fallow.
Ofcom recently successfully completed the auction of 4G spectrum, which saw five companies acquire airwaves to launch competing superfast 4G mobile broadband services from spring or early summer.