Feature Article

October 04, 2013

UK Telecom Regulator Launches 'White Spaces' Spectrum Trial

For many nations in short supply of spectrum for wireless technology, the place to turn has been “the white spaces.” In 2008 in the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in an effort to make more spectrum available to broadcasters and telecommunications companies, voted to grant licenses for some organizations to operate in the so called “white spaces,” which refers to frequencies allocated to a television broadcasting service but not used locally. (Think of tuning in a station on your car radio and then driving 150 miles away; you’d lose the signal and receive only static, but that space is still technically allocated for that’s station broadcasting purposes.)

Now the UK would appear to be the next nation to move into the white spaces in a particular effort to bring wireless connectivity to more rural areas that lack it, and to prepare the nation for the upcoming “Internet of Things,” a wide network of everyday devices such as cars, appliances and home control systems connected to the Internet. According to the Guardian, the UK telecommunications watchdog, Ofcom, is currently running a trial with partners including Microsoft, Google and BT to use white space technology for mobile broadband and connectivity.

Ofcom, which is the independent telecommunications regulator and competition authority for the communication industries in the UK, says it’s an effort to position the nation to face the telecom trends in the years ahead.

"Spectrum is the raw material that will underpin the next revolution in wireless communications," Ofcom's chief technology officer Steve Unger told the Guardian. "However, there isn't an unlimited supply of spectrum to meet the extraordinary demand of our ever expanding Internet-connected society.”

For devices using white spaces spectrum to work, it’s critical that the device (and its service provider) know which frequencies are available, at what power levels, and at which times of the day in a particular location. Ofcom intends to create a white space database that will “tell” devices in specific areas what spectrum is available for use at the time they require connectivity. This database management can help prevent interference with television broadcasting.

If the initiative is undertaken, the UK will be the first country in Europe to begin using white spaces spectrum.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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