UK's Ofcom Plans to Use TV White Spaces for Enhanced Wi-Fi Service

By Ashok Bindra September 02, 2011

UK’s independent regulatory agency Ofcom has proposed plans for using TV white spaces for running enhanced Wi-Fi service in the UK, the first country in Europe to do so. The technology uses signals that can travel large distances and easily through walls. This makes it suitable for a wide range of new consumer applications that could include rural broadband and Wi-Fi with up to twice the range of today’s technology, said the regulator.

According to Ofcom, the technology works by searching for unused areas of the airwaves or gaps called ‘White Spaces’ that exist in bands that have been reserved for TV broadcasts. These White Spaces are used to transmit and receive wireless signals. Recycling airwaves – or “spectrum” – in this way is a highly efficient use of what is a very limited resource, said Ofcom.

Experts say that white spaces offer significant capacity to help alleviate pressures on wireless networks. To put the scale of this capacity into perspective, Ofcom expects the amount of white space to be comparable to spectrum that is currently available for 3G services, and significantly more in some locations.

Compared with other forms of wireless technology, such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, White Space devices are being designed to use lower frequencies that have traditionally been reserved for TV.

In a statement, Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive, said, “At an early stage Ofcom identified the potential of White Spaces, which are currently lying vacant all around us. 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 maximize the efficient use of spectrum and open the door to the development of a new and exciting range of consumer and business applications.”

Target applications for White Space technology includes enhanced Wi-Fi, rural broadband, and machine-to-machine communications. The majority of current Wi-Fi devices operate in spectrum at 2.4 GHz. Thanks to lower frequency of TV White Spaces (typically between 470 and 790 MHz), White Spaces could provide new capacity, while boosting the range of devices, potentially enabling Wi-Fi networks that stretch across towns and cities.

According to Ofcom, it has decided to make White Space devices license exempt. This means that they will be allowed to operate without the need for an Ofcom license on the condition that they do not cause harmful interference to existing users of the spectrum. Ofcom expects that White Space technology could be launched in the UK in 2013.

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Ashok Bindra is a veteran writer and editor with more than 25 years of editorial experience covering RF/wireless technologies, semiconductors and power electronics. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves

TechZone360 Contributor

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