Ofcom Proposes Enhanced Wi-Fi On Whitespace Radio

Gaps in TV broadcast spectrum could fill the rural broadband map – if Ofcom can get the technology agreed

The UK’s telecom regulator Ofcom has issued proposals for unused “white space” radio spectrum, including the use of “enhanced Wi-Fi” and the provision of rural broadband services.

White space systems use TV broadcast frequencies in areas where they are not being used – and are predicted to boost economic activity as well as improving broadband coverage. Ofcom wants the UK to lead Europe in this “spectrum recycling”, and says it will make the spectrum “licence exempt”, so it can be used freely, according to a release which presents the results of a consultation which began last November.

First White Space Radio in Europe?

Ofcom hopes for deployments by 2013, putting the UK ahead of other countries, and proposes it be used for a higher-power variant of Wi-Fi as well as for rural broadband connections and machine-to-machine communication.

‘Within Europe, we have been leading the way to try to harness this capacity without causing harmful interference to existing users of the spectrum,” said Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards. ‘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.’

To make the system work however, there will have to be databases that will let any white space device search for unused frequencies at its particular location. Ofcom wants several competiting databases:  “Ofcom has decided to allow multiple third-party providers to develop databases, which will create a competitive marketplace and incentivise operators to provide the best database service to consumers,” says the release. Six companies are reported to have put themselves forward to run them.

Ofcom’s summary of  the comments on its white space consultation reveals the likely sticking points, which include paying for those databases. The next step is for Ofcom to produce a “statutory instrument” to make white space “licence exempt”, like the 2.4GHz frequency used by Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It may consult further on the database rules, and is also considering the implementation of similar white space services in spectrum used by FM radio.