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Ofcom releases details of the UK's TV White Space trials

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Oct 04, 2013 by Toby Youell

The UK telecommunications regulator has announced who will participate in its forthcoming TV White Space pilot and has also set out its priorities for the next decade

Around 20 organisations will participate in the white space trials, Ofcom said, ranging from the local internet provider, Click4Internet to the software behemoth, Google. Seven of these companies are interested in supplying the spectrum databases that would be necessary to make a White Space spectrum project workable and eleven companies are planning to participate in three case studies.

Ofcom said that it wants to provide more spectrum for Dynamic Spectrum sharing - which would require spectrum database technology - by 2016. It said that it may use newly available MoD bands in order to do this.

Ofcom's Chief Technology Officer, Steve Unger said that the growth of devices that can use spectrum “is why we need to explore new ways of unlocking the potential of spectrum – like white space technology – to get the most from this valuable natural resource.”

Unger mentioned three case studies, smart roads, urban wifi and rural broadband.

Smart Roads

BT is going to conduct a White Space test with Neul along a major road transport artery in the East of England, the A14. The road currently suffers from congestion so the two companies are planning to use M2M technology to make the flow of traffic more steady. The consortium plans to use spectrum to detect the speed of individual cars and use this data to issue variable speed limits for each individual car..

Smart Cities

Microsoft plan to use TV White Space technology to provide wifi in Glasgow, which is the city that has the least broadband penetration rate in the UK. The company plans to do this by providing citizens with tablets that tune in to the low broadcasting frequencies. It will also collaborate with the University of Strathclyde's Centre for White Space Communications to create a 'smart city' by setting up a network of sensors. Ofcom's Chief Executive, Ed Richards, told a press conference that he did not originally anticipate this use of TV White Space technology.

Rural Broadband

Conversely, rural broadband has long been cited as a good use of TV White Space technology because of the propagation characteristics of low frequency radio signals. Click4Internet, KTS and Sinecom plan to use TV White Space technology to roll out rural broadband services in the South of England. Click4Internet already provides wifi services for residents of the Isle of Wight, a small island a few miles off the South England coast.

There will also be white space trials in Oxford and Kings College London.

Ofcom's Chief Executive, Ed Richards, said: “The upcoming white space pilot is a very exciting development, which has attracted an impressive line-up of participants, ranging from global tech giants to innovative UK start-ups.”

Ofcom released a consultation on TV White Space earlier this month and will release a statement on the matter in early 2014. It expects consumer applications of TVWS to be developed in late 2014.

Ten Year Plan

Ofcom's announcement came at the same time as it put its ten year plan to a consultation.

It has identified seven priority areas. Three of the priority areas are sector focussed. These are: the growing demand for mobile and wireless data; the future of PMSE use of spectrum; and supporting the UK government in considering its emergency services needs.

Two of the priorities are are focussed on bands. These are: potential competing demands for the 450-470 MHz band; and the 700 MHz strategy. The latter is closely tied to the future of digital terrestrial technology (DTT).

Two of the priorities are cross cutting. These are: new spectrum sharing opportunities; and radio frequency equipment standards and performance.

Throughout a press briefing, Ofcom's CEO, Ed Richards emphasised that it was impossible to predict exactly what would happen in the future. However, one Ofcom target was that there would be 98% indoor penetration of 4G services by 2017.

Further Liberalisation to come

The plan continues Ofcom's commitment to market mechanisms wherever possible. This can be seen in the six policy objectives that it has set itself. These objectives are: greater market access to public sector 'Crown' spectrum; more spectrum to be released to the market via auction; greater levels of spectrum sharing; a greater proportion of spectrum to be harmonised; a greater proportion of spectrum licences to be made tradable; and a greater proportion of market spectrum to be liberalised.

Ofcom said that it had already made good progress in making more spectrum available to the market. It said that there is currently market access to 75% of the spectrum, although 39% of that spectrum is also used by the Crown (public sector).

The commitment to liberalisation comes despite a recent consultation document that advocated cancelling a self-licensing system for spectrum in the 70 Ghz/80 GHz band.

A spokesperson for Ofcom told PolicyTracker that: “We use market mechanisms (including liberalisation) wherever possible and effective, but regulation has a part to play where there are barriers preventing market mechanisms from achieving an optimal outcome.”

He added that issues that have emerged in self-coordination are a key example of barrier to the efficient functioning of market mechanisms.

Richards also said that he was “not really” worried that Ofcom's strategy would be constrained by the European Commission's draft Telecom's Regulation.

A statement on the consultation's responses will be released in early 2014.•

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