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Ofcom plans new legislation for white space devices

Ofcom plans new legislation for white space devices

The communications regulator will use a third party database to allocate spectrum in real time

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Communications regulator Ofcom has revealed plans to bring white space enabled devices to the UK, which will require new legislation to allow for a managed database to allocate unlicensed spectrum in real time.

White space devices use gaps in radio spectrum, which exist in between frequency bands that have been reserved for TV broadcasting. Use of these white spaces would allow devices to transmit and receive wireless signals for applications such as broadband access for rural communities or machine-to-machine networks.

Compared to other forms of wireless technologies, such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, the spectrum used by white space devices will be able to travel larger distances and through walls. This is because it uses lower frequencies that have traditionally been reserved for TV (between 470MHz and 790MHz).

There is an increasing need for innovative ways to gain access to spectrum, due to the increasing high data demand that is being placed on traditional Wi-Fi and 3G/4G networks.

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

“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.”

Ofcom’s proposed framework claims to be designed so that white space devices do not interfere with existing licensed users of the spectrum, which include DTT and wireless microphone users.

New legislation will be required under Ofcom’s plans, as the white space devices will operate without the need for a license. The proposals currently suggest that a white space device will not be able to start transmitting until getting clearance from an online database that is qualified by Ofcom.

This database will provide updated information on where the white spaces are and the power level that devices would need to be restricted to if they wanted to use them.

A spokesperson for Ofcom told Computerworld UK that the online database will be managed by a third party, but it has not been confirmed who this will be.

The closing date for responses to the consultation is 10th January 2013, and Ofcom will use the feedback from this consultation to finalise its proposals.

Ofcom will next year notify the European Commission of its proposed technical regulations for white space devices. This will be followed by a ‘standstill’ period of three months for the Commission to inform other Member States and to allow opportunity to comment on Ofcom’s plans.

In 2013, Ofcom also plans to finalise the arrangements for databases and the technical parameters needed to ensure that white space devices can operate harmoniously with existing spectrum users. This means that white space technologies could potentially be launched in the UK towards the end of 2013.

It was reported recently that the government is having detailed discussions with both Microsoft and Google about acquiring licences for white space spectrum.

Google and Microsoft could be interested in the white spaces in a bid to provide a competitive advantage over Apple, where either company could provide widespread broadband access via their mobile phone offerings.

One government source said: “They clearly see it as very, very important. They have shown extreme interest in this as a way of getting closer to customers and offering something different to Apple.”

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