U.K. Moves Closer To Liberating Its White Spaces Spectrum

The U.K. telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has officially green-lit the launch of white spaces spectrum, and suggests that commercial deployments making use of the freed-up frequencies could go live by the end of the year.

The decision follows a consultation process, and ongoing testing, over the past few years as the regulator has sought to gather data on utility and potential interference risks involved with allowing wireless device makers to share spectrum with digital terrestrial TV broadcasts and the wireless microphones used by broadcasters and at events.

The point of opening up white spaces spectrum is to maximize the utility of what is a finite resource by making use of gaps left between broadcasts when it’s possible to do so without interfering with the primary user.

Demand for spectrum generally continues to rise as more types of devices come online and are networked together. And low-frequency white spaces spectrum is especially coveted because it can travel long distances and penetrate walls — offering better coverage than alternative wireless technologies, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Ofcom envisages white spaces spectrum supporting remote monitoring machine-to-machine applications such as robotic crop irrigations for farming. (The regulator separately set out its priorities for supporting the development of the Internet of Things in the U.K. last month.) Various industry trials using white spaces are ongoing in the U.K., including applications for flood defense services; a Wi-Fi alternative on a university campus; and the web streaming of London Zoo’s meerkats.

In a report published today, Ofcom details its decision to allow device makers to use white spaces spectrum in the U.K.’s 470 to 790 MHz frequency band via a process of “dynamic sharing controlled by a spectrum database” aimed at minimizing interference risks. Use of this spectrum is license free.

In its report, Ofcom notes that the dynamic database allocation is a new approach to spectrum access, so it expects its implementation to “improve and evolve” over time.

The report notes:

The framework set out here is intended to allow use of TV white spaces to get underway and provide an opportunity for markets in both applications and equipment to develop whilst also achieving our aim of ensuring a low probability of harmful interference to existing users.

Ofcom adds:

This is an excellent opportunity for all parts of industry to explore these opportunities, and look at ways in which this approach to making spectrum available can form part, or all, of a network strategy that delivers the communications capability that any individual application requires. We are very keen to see how useful it is, and in what ways the regulatory framework could be improved to make it more effective as a means of securing efficient use of spectrum.

Ofcom is also separately freeing up additional spectrum, currently used by the Ministry of Defence and which Ofcom says would be suitable for 4G/LTE services, in the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz spectrum bands, with an auction for that spectrum due to take place later this year or next.

The advantage of the white spaces spectrum is that users are not required to bid for expensive spectrum licences to run commercial services in these frequencies. Instead they just need to ensure their devices meet Ofcom’s technical requirements for operation. So more types of wireless services should be incoming in the U.K. in the near future.