Rural broadband and WiFi to slip between TV gaps

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Rural broadband and WiFi to slip between TV gaps

Ian Grant

Communications regulator Ofcom has published proposals to make available unused TV frequencies for free enhanced WiFi and rural broadband network access, among other applications.

The consultation discusses setting up a central geo-location database that suitable devices would first look up to see what frequencies they could use in that area, and how much power they could transmit without interfering with neighbouring TV signals.

Ofcom has been among the leading regulators calling for the use of so-called "white space" in spectrum set aside for television broadcasts.

"These gaps, or 'white spaces', cannot be used for additional high power TV transmissions. However, lower power unlicensed devices could operate in these white spaces, as long as they can accurately identify where they are," Ofcom said.

TV frequencies, between about 500MHz and 800MHz, provide a relatively large amount of spectrum and signals that travel much further than in the bands used for WiFi (typically 2.4GHz), the regulator said.

"We do not expect white space devices to displace broadband communications via cellular or WiFi but to provide an additional mechanism for communications," Ofcom said.

Most new apps would be short range due to power restrictions, such as enhanced home wireless routers, rural broadband access, and data networks in applications such as hospitals and urban wireless data networks, it said.

Ofcom said, "We do not expect to see large scale commercial activity before around 2014 and would expect penetration of devices to take some years to build after this."

This would give suppliers time to map the presence and strength of TV signals in various areas and build the required databases.

Ofcom said there was consensus that the optimum approach was likely to be based on a central database, which would provide information to low power devices as to whether it was safe for them to transmit, taking into account the location of each device.

"Trials of a number of new applications using this geo-location database approach are now taking place, particularly in the US and the UK, and appear promising," it said.

The consultation closes on 7 December.


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