Ofcom, the UK telecommunications regulator, has announced (2 October 2013) the organisations taking part in Europe’s first major pilot of an innovative new wireless technology. The UK will be among the first countries in the world to road-test ‘white space’ technology, which could help support the next wave of wireless innovation.
The regulator has also published a blueprint announcing its spectrum management plans for the future (see below).
Over the next six months, around 20 public and private organisations will be participating in Ofcom’s white space pilot by running trials to test a variety of innovative applications – ranging from sensors that monitor the behaviour of cities, to dynamic information for road users and rural broadband in hard to reach places.
BT and Neul
BT and technology specialist Neul will work with the Department for Transport to test the potential enhancement of traffic information as part of a wider project along the A14 between Felixstowe and Cambridge. Using white spaces to transmit data on traffic congestion and varying traffic conditions to vehicles, the technology is designed to improve information to drivers and could reduce congestion and even improve road safety.
Microsoft will test how white spaces can provide people with access to free Wi-Fi in Glasgow, which has the lowest level of broadband take-up of all UK cities.
Working with the University of Strathclyde’s Centre for White Space Communications, Microsoft will also examine using white spaces to link a network of sensors around Glasgow to create a ‘smart city’.
Click4internet, KTS & SineCom
Internet service provider Click4internet will use white spaces to test rural broadband in hard to reach places obscured by thick foliage or challenging topography. Unlike 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 larger distances and easily through solid objects. This is because they would use the lower frequencies that have traditionally been reserved for TV. They will work with technology partners, KTS & SineCom to deliver the pilot.
A number of companies, including Google, Nominet, LS telcom, iconectiv, Key Bridge, Fairspectrum and Spectrum Bridge have expressed interest in testing intelligent databases that ensure white spaces can be used without causing harmful interference to other devices.
How white spaces work
These new services will utilise the gaps, or ‘white spaces’, that sit in the frequency band used to broadcast digital terrestrial TV. Some of these gaps may be used by other applications, such as wireless microphones, but only at certain times.
White space devices would access the spaces at times when they are vacant, by communicating their locations to a database designed to minimise the risk of interference with any existing users. This is a creative and efficient way to get the most from spectrum – the vital but finite resource that supports all wireless technology.
The amount of white space available in the UK varies by location, the power level of devices and the point in the day at which they access spectrum.
Unlike some other parts of the radio spectrum, white spaces will be available to use on a licence-exempt basis, potentially allowing for fast take-up and innovation by manufacturers8.
Surge in demand for spectrum
The forthcoming trials will investigate the potential for white spaces to help meet the growing demands being placed on the UK’s wireless infrastructure. White spaces is one example of spectrum sharing. Spectrum sharing is a long term objective for Ofcom which will help the UK utilise spectrum more efficiently to meet growing demand.
In the UK, half of all adults now own a smartphone and one in four households has a tablet computer, fuelling a surge in demand for more data capacity. This will help support up to 50 billion devices forecast to be connected wirelessly to the internet by 2020.
One of the key drivers for this increase will be machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, which will be used to link devices together over the internet.
Commonly referred to as the ‘internet of things’, connecting devices in this way has the potential to deliver significant benefits to society, with a range of applications spanning transport, healthcare, energy and agriculture.
The emergence of M2M communications, along with mobile broadband growth and more sophisticated techniques for sharing spectrum such as white space technology, are likely to have a significant impact on spectrum use.
Competing demands from different sectors – such as broadcasting, programme makers and special events organisers – are also likely to present significant challenges for spectrum management over the next 10 years.
For example, trends towards higher definition TV are likely to influence broadcasting capacity needs on both digital terrestrial TV and satellite platforms. Also, wireless microphone and camera users will be affected by the increasing complexity of live events production and the move to higher definition standards.
Ofcom’s spectrum management strategy
To prepare for these challenges, Ofcom has today published a blueprint for how it plans to manage spectrum over the next decade.
It has assessed each individual sector that uses spectrum – such as broadcasting and mobile broadband – and considered how their needs are likely to develop in the future. This has identified a number of areas where Ofcom plans to focus its efforts over the next ten years. Examples include:
- Mobile and wireless data demands;
- managing a potential re-arranging of the bands used for digital terrestrial TV (DTT) to release more spectrum for mobile broadband after 2018, while protecting the future of TV services received through the aerial;
- and considering the future of Programme Making and Special Events (PMSE) use of spectrum.
‘Spectrum: the next decade’
The publication of Ofcom’s spectrum management strategy coincides with a two-day Ofcom event, ‘Spectrum: the next decade’, designed to showcase current and future wireless opportunities in the UK.
The event will focus on areas of spectrum innovation such as 5G, M2M communications and spectrum sharing– as well as how Ofcom plans to meet future spectrum demands.
Ed Richards, Ofcom’s chief executive, said: “Access to spectrum is fundamental to the future success of the UK’s digital economy, providing the infrastructure that underpins all wireless communications.
“The upcoming white space pilot is a very exciting development, which has attracted an impressive line-up of participants, ranging from global tech giants to innovative UK start-ups. This is an excellent opportunity for the UK to help lead in the world of spectrum and one that could deliver huge benefits to society.”
Steve Unger, Ofcom chief technology officer, said: “Spectrum is the raw material that will underpin the next revolution in wireless communications. In the future it won’t be just mobiles and tablets that are connected to the internet; billions of other things including cars, crops, coffee machines and cardiac monitors will also be connected, using tiny slivers of spectrum to get online.
“This is likely to deliver large benefits to society; however there isn’t an unlimited supply of spectrum to meet this extraordinary demand. This is why we need to explore new ways of unlocking the potential of spectrum – like white space technology – to get the most from this valuable national resource.”