Ofcom updates on ‘White Space’ trials

Ofcom has reported on the status of plans for the introduction of new ‘white space’ wireless technology in the UK – the first country in Europe likely to do so.

A number of trials are taking place across the country, with the latest organisations to launch TV trials using the technology to stream live footage of animals to YouTube.

This technology uses gaps in radio spectrum that exist in between frequency bands, called white space, to offer new wireless applications that will benefit consumers and businesses.

Ofcom is working with industry to test how this technology might be put into practice. The trials test a range of uses, such as Internet access for rural communities, WiFi-like services, wireless video streaming, or new ‘machine-to-machine’ networks.

Following completion of the trials, testing and policy development, Ofcom expects the technology could be rolled out during 2015; enabling the use of new wireless applications to benefit consumers and businesses across the country.

There are already seven trials running across the UK, with more scheduled to start over the coming months. Both public and private organisations are taking part, testing a variety of innovative applications, using spectrum temporarily licensed by Ofcom:

  • Live video streaming: Google and ZSL London Zoo, along with equipment providers MediaTek and 6Harmonics, have launched a trial this week to use a TV white space network to stream live video of the Zoo’s to YouTube. The trial will use Google’s spectrum database and will help ZSL London Zoo test the technology for use in additional efforts to monitor and protect endangered animals in the wild.

  • Flood defence: using TV white space technology, Love Hz and Nominet are working with the Oxford Flood Network, a citizen-built wireless sensor network, which provides early flood warnings for the community. Water levels are monitored in real-time and sent over white space using Adaptrum devices.

  • Next generation WiFi and city sensing: The University of Strathclyde’s Centre for White Space Communications has been working with Microsoft, 6Harmonics, MediaTek, Spectrum Bridge, and Sky – with backing from the Scottish Government. The pilot explores how the latest technology, including triple-band Wi-Fi, can enhance internet coverage in indoor and outdoor urban locations and enable ‘smart city’ functionality, including linking webcams and other sensors.

  • Internet on ships and boats: CloudNet IT Solutions, Fairspectrum and Carlson Wireless Technologies are using white spaces to provide internet connectivity and communications to ferries travelling in the Orkney Islands and Pentland Firth, which have no wireless broadband availability. CloudNet are also looking to extend this trial to other transport operators in the area. Separately, Microsoft, Neul and 6Harmonics have been working with Click 4 Internet on the Isle of Wight to test how the technology could work with boats at sea.

Compared with other forms of wireless technologies, such as regular Bluetooth and WiFi, the radio waves used by TV white space devices can travel longer distances and more easily through walls.

The on-going trials are testing the operation of white spaces devices, white space databases used to identify what spectrum is available, and the processes needed to minimise the risk of interference to current spectrum users.

Ofcom will explore in future whether the white space in other spectrum bands could be used for similar innovation.

Philip Marnick, Group Director, Spectrum Policy Group said that in a world where consumers’ demand for data services is experiencing huge growth, it was essential to find the most efficient ways to share the airwaves, suggesting that white space technology could be one way of meeting this demand. “These trials are an important first step in Ofcom understanding whether white space can be used in other spectrum bands,” he added.

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