Ofcom pushes UK to be first in white-space radio

The regulator has outlined plans to develop unused white-space spectrum for broadband and Wi-Fi, with the first commercial services coming online by 2013

Ofcom has published plans to allow organisations to set up new unlicensed data services in unused parts of the radio spectrum.

White space, which exists in bands reserved for TV broadcasts, could be used for rural broadband and Wi-Fi with twice the range of existing technology, the UK wireless regulator said in a statement on Thursday. Lower speed, long-range machine-to-machine (M2M) communications should also be possible, said Ofcom.

"At an early stage Ofcom identified the potential of white spaces, which are currently lying vacant all around us," Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said in the statement.

Unlicensed white-space data services will share spectrum with licensed operators. The amount of new bandwidth could be as much as current 3G services provide, and significantly more in some locations, Ofcom said.

"Within Europe, we have been leading the way to try to harness this capacity without causing harmful interference to existing users of the spectrum," said Richards. "The solution we have devised creates the opportunity to maximise the efficient use of spectrum and open the door to the development of a new and exciting range of consumer and business applications."

The system proposed by Ofcom would require white-space devices to work out their location and then consult a central database before becoming active. This database would tell the devices what frequencies were available and what power could be used, and would co-ordinate use countrywide to avoid interference with TV, wireless microphones and other existing users. It could also be used to shut down or modify services if interference was detected.

The first commercial use of white-space technology could happen in the UK by 2013, Ofcom said, noting that trials were already under way in Bute and Cambridge. This puts the country ahead of the rest of the world in planned deployment, and would give the UK a head start in helping to define international standards for more widespread use, the regulator said.

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