updated 01:45 pm EDT, Thu September 1, 2011
Use would recylcle underutilized TV spectrum
Ofcom, the regulatory and competition authority for the UK communications industry, has approved the use of "white space," the unused segments that exist in the spectrum currently solely used by analog TV broadcasts, for wireless Internet access. The low frequency of this spectrum enables signals to travel long distances and penetrate walls at speeds up to 22Mbps, making it attractive for a wide range of new consumer applications including rural broadband, and behavior like Wi-Fi with up to twice the range of today's technology.
The white space frequencies, operating typically between 470MHz and 790MHz, are largely underused. Opening them up could help alleviate a bandwidth crunch in the future, as wireless data usage continues to grow. Ofcom estimates that the new capacity in the white spaces is equal to that of 3G networks.
Potential applications of these airwaves could include enhances Wi-Fi services, stretching across towns or cities, broadband access in rural areas, and machine-to-machine links.
There is some concern that the added mobile broadband Internet usage would interfere with the digital TV signals already broadcasting over the spectrum. However, in June, Microsoft, in conjunction with the BBC, BT, and British Sky Broadcasting began a trial to allay those fears.
In the US, the FCC approved unlicensed wireless access to the white space frequencies last September. Rice University in Houston began the first implementation using the spectrum in April.
Ofcom expects that white space technology could be launched in the UK in 2013. The regulatory authority is considering opening up other white spaces including those in the airwaves currently used by FM radio.