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Ofcom will let UK ISPs use 'white space' technology

Unusued TV spectrum could help bring net access to rural areas

Ofcom has revealed it will allow UK ISPs to utilise 'white space' technology to offer broadband connections.

The technology utilises unused parts of the spectrum, typically between 470 and 790MHz, usually reserved for TV broadcasts to transmit and receive wireless signals. These wireless signals can travel larger distances than existing Wi-Fi technology and can also be easily transmitted through walls, making the technology suitable for bringing broadband connections to rural areas.

The regulator also believes the technology will help alleviate pressures on wireless networks and eventually expects the amount of white space utilised by ISPs to be equivelent to the spectrum currently used for 3G services provided by mobile networks in the country.

In November last year, Ofcom started a consultation into the technology and the regulator has now concluded ISPs can harness white spaces without the need for a licence from Ofcom "on the condition that they [the ISPs] do not cause harmful interference to existing users of the spectrum".

"At an early stage Ofcom identified the potential of White Spaces, which are currently lying vacant all around us," said Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive.

"Within Europe, we have been leading the way to try to harness this capacity without causing harmful interference to existing users of the spectrum. 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 regulator says unlike traditional Wi-Fi, White Space technology will see the router, also known as a 'master' device, contacting a database to log its location. The database will subsequently offer up a list of frequencies available and the power that can be used, ensuring the devices do not affect existing users of the spectrum.

Ofcom said it has decided to allow multiple third-party providers to develop databases in a bid to create competition.

The regulator expects the first white space technology broadband to be made available in the UK in 2013.  White space technology trials are already underway. BT's trial is taking place in the Isle of Bute, while a consortium of tech firms, including Microsoft and the BBC, are trialling the technology in Cambridge.

Ofcom is also considering using spare radio airwaves to offer broadband to rural areas of the UK.

According to Graham Duthie, systems engineer at networking quipment manufacturer Netgear, the white space spectrum will eventually lead to firms across the UK adopting more smartphones and tablets for their business.

"With white space, employees will be able to get a superfast internet connection no matter where they are, and therefore be encouraged to use mobile devices for work," he said.

"But because white space involves a whole new radio band, and no devices being used today are able to use it, the spectrum will not become widely used for a number of years."

However, Duthie says that when new products reach the market that can use white space, it will undoubtedly help to drive the growth of mobile devices.

"For the moment, properly managed and secured Wi-Fi is still the most cost effective way for small businesses to provide Internet connectivity for smartphones and tablets."


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