‘White Spaces’ in Broadcast Spectrum Could Be Used for City-Wide Wifi

OfcomWherever there’s broadband, video flourishes. Now Ofcom say Europe has moved a step closer towards having ‘white space’ devices that can receive data delivered within the gaps in the frequency bands used by TV broadcasting. Ofcom say the frequencies could be used for city-wide Wi-Fi or rural broadband, or for innovative ‘machine to machine’ networks.

Compared with other forms of wireless technologies, such as regular Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, the radio waves used by white space devices will be able to travel larger distances and easily through walls. This is because they would use the lower frequencies that have traditionally been reserved for TV.

Spectrum itself is a limited resource that is in huge demand, fuelled by the recent explosion in smartphones use and other wireless applications, so white space devices would be an efficient way to use spectrum that would otherwise lay fallow.

The move could help take the load off  the existing broadband and mobile networks when it comes to multichannel video delivery, and ubiquitous Wi-Fi would also have major implications for the mobile operators as data-only phone packages would suddenly become considerably more attractive.

Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “From rural broadband to enhanced Wi-Fi, white space technology offers significant opportunities for innovation and enterprise in the UK.

“It also represents a fundamentally different approach to using spectrum by searching and recycling unused gaps in the airwaves. This could prove critical in averting a global spectrum capacity crunch, as consumers demand more bandwidth over different devices.”

The closing date for anyone wishing to contribute to the consultation – which Ofcom will use to finalise its proposals – is 10 January 2013.

Potential applications of white space technology

Enhanced Wi-Fi: The majority of current Wi-Fi devices operate in spectrum at 2.4GHz. White spaces could provide new capacity, while boosting the range of devices, potentially enabling Wi-Fi networks that stretch across towns and cities. This is due to the lower frequency of TV white spaces (typically between 470 MHz and 790 MHz).

Rural broadband: White spaces could be used to provide rural locations with broadband services. In practice, this could be achieved by building a network of transmitters that use white spaces to link remote houses and villages to larger towns that are already connected to the internet.

Machine-to-Machine communications: This relatively new area of innovation allows information to be exchanged between different devices. This could be especially useful for wirelessly measuring utility meters in consumers’ home, for example, or allowing businesses to wirelessly track their inventory.

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