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Ofcom progresses plans for new wireless technology

November 9, 2010


Today, Ofcom announced how a new form of wireless communication called “white space technology” will work in practice.

This follows an earlier consultation, exploring the potential of the technology, which could be used for a wide range of innovative applications. For example, technology manufacturers have suggested that it might wirelessly link up different devices and offer enhanced broadband access in rural areas.

The technology works by searching for unused radio waves called “white spaces” between TV channels to transmit and receive wireless signals. Compared with other forms of wireless technology, such as Bluetooth and WiFi, white-space devices are being designed to use lower frequencies that have traditionally been reserved for TV. Signals at these frequencies travel further and more easily through walls.

Today’s consultation sets out the processes needed to successfully launch the technology and how new devices will be made available to consumers without the need for a licence.

White space database

It is important that white space devices do not interfere with TV broadcasts and other wireless technologies that share these frequencies. The solution is for devices to do this by consulting a “geolocation database” that contains live information about which frequencies are free to use at their current location.

Ofcom intends to make it possible for interested companies to host such databases in 2011.

Licence exempt

In order to implement the proposed geolocation process for white space technology, Ofcom will need to publish a Statutory Instrument exempting appropriate devices from the need for a licence.

How the technology will work

White space technology will work in a similar way to WiFi, which uses a wireless router to send and receive information to other wireless devices. A key difference is that the white space router will first need to consult a list of databases hosted online. It will describe its location and device characteristics to one of these databases on a regular basis. The database will then return details of the frequencies and power levels it is allowed to use.

Professor William Webb, Director of Technology Resources at Ofcom, said: “The airwaves that wireless devices depend on are becoming increasingly congested. We need to think about more efficient ways of using this limited resource. Using the white spaces between TV channels is a good example of how we can both use spectrum more efficiently and provide opportunities for innovative new applications and services.

“Our role is to encourage innovation rather than decide on what technology and applications should succeed. To that end, we hope that these frequencies, which offer improved signal reliability, capacity, and range over existing wireless technologies, will bring clear benefits for consumers.”

Next steps

The closing date for responses to Ofcom’s latest consultation is 7 December.

The next step is for Ofcom to propose a draft Statutory Instrument to make white space devices licence exempt. This will be consulted on before being brought into effect.

It is estimated that by the end of 2011, there will be a regulatory and technical regime in place to support white space technology.

Consultation: Implementing geolocation

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