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Dynamic spectrum access could revolutionise comms

Ofcom believes DSA and intelligent roaming could generate billions for the UK economy
Written by David Meyer, Contributor on

Ofcom has published its second annual report looking into future technologies that may enable a more efficient use of radio spectrum.

An emerging technology called dynamic spectrum access (DSA) is one option that the telecommunications regulator thinks might be very useful, according to the Technology Research and Development Report, published on Tuesday. Ofcom suggests that emerging technologies explored through its Treasury-funded R&D programme could generate up to £6.5bn for the UK economy over the next 20 years.

DSA would effectively decentralise spectrum control by letting a communication device, such as a mobile phone, roam between different wireless networks — and that means different operators' networks as well as different types of network.

According to Ofcom, this would "make efficient use of the spectrum by linking the supply of spectrum with demand though an open and competitive marketplace for real time access to spectrum", as opposed to having chunks of spectrum allocated to specific services for specific periods of time.

"It might be that the consumer wants to use something that's very bandwidth intensive, or that offers the cheapest calls," an Ofcom spokesperson told ZDNet UK, adding that these different technologies could include 2G, 3G and Wi-Fi.

Although roaming between Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity is already central to the fixed-mobile convergence being introduced by the likes of BT and Orange — another thing that Ofcom is very keen on — DSA would hinge on a "system to allow network operators to transmit pricing information to handsets", leaving the handsets to then "intelligently roam" across different networks.

Asked why an operator would choose to allow its subscribers to roam across to a rival network or access point, thus depriving it of revenue, the spokesperson suggested that "one motivation could be that it offers new genuine competition in the market. Operators could feel they have a competitive advantage by doing this".

Analyst Dean Bubley said the idea of dynamic spectrum access was "great from a scientific and theoretical point of view", but asked: "If it was a UK-only initiative, would there be enough volume in creating devices and device software for it?"

The report also suggested that mesh networking might aid in the fight for spectrum efficiency. This involves low-cost, self-organising networks of access points, automatically connecting with other nodes that are within range and re-routing traffic if a node fails. Ofcom believes mesh networks could help extend broadband access and might find an application in the transport and healthcare sectors, but no major plans are on the horizon yet.

"We think it's a useful technology but we haven't formed any policies on it," said Ofcom's spokesperson.

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