A quiet revolution is addressing the UK’s chronic lack of spectrum resources.
Regulator Ofcom is putting in place the foundations for industry to exploit television white spaces, the regional gaps in the broadcast bands created when television channels use a frequency in one part of the country but not another.
“It’s being done without any fanfare but it means the UK is now at the forefront of this thinking,” notes ATDI operations director Paul Grant. “The fascinating thing from an engineering perspective is that there are no standard propagation rules in this area; this is not off-the-shelf spectrum as it would be in something like a big release to the mobile networks. Every planning and modelling issue with white space is a bespoke issue and there is nothing an engineer loves more than that. Tackling unique challenges is why engineers enter the profession in the first place.”
Ofcom’s facilitation of industry trials of white space use has resulted in companies providing internet access for ships travelling between the Orkney Islands, networks enabling machine-to-machine communication for monitoring flood defences in Oxfordshire and wireless video streaming of meerkats in London Zoo.
An Ofcom statement says: “White space spectrum in the TV frequency band is appealing for industry because it can travel longer distances and more easily through walls than the bands mainly used by other wireless technologies such as Bluetooth and wi-fi.”
A key part of its use is in allowing the white space spectrum to be put to work without causing interference for existing services. Paul says: “A core area of ATDI’s expertise is in ensuring new and old usages of spectrum happily co-exist. We’ve done this when television broadcasters need to work alongside mobile phone companies and when air traffic radars must work in proximity to wi-fi signals being used on board trains – and we’ve done it everywhere from desert depressions to the tops of mountains. It means that we have the tools and expertise to enable spectrum users to get the most from their assets whatever they hold, but particularly in the precise confines of white spaces.”
Ofcom says: “Based on the trials and stakeholder feedback, there is considerable interest from industry in developing this technology. Ofcom believes commercial applications for this white space technology could emerge by the end of the year. Ofcom is exploring how the white space in other spectrum bands could be used for similar innovation in the future.”