White space technology
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“White spaces” are the gaps between the frequencies allocated to high powered television transmissions in adjacent geographic areas. This spectrum is currently under-used (if used at all), but has a wide range of potential low-power applications including Machine-to-Machine (M2M) wireless connectivity, multimedia streaming, data networks and delivering mobile broadband to hard-to-reach areas.
Regulators on both sides of the Atlantic have been engaging with stakeholders on how best to ensure that white space spectrum can be used without causing interference to TV transmissions. In September 2010, to the relief of device makers, the US Federal Communications Commission abandoned proposals that would have required white space devices to use “sensing” technology to monitor frequencies for radio transmissions. More recently, on 1 September 2011, the UK regulator, Ofcom, issued a statement setting out its plans for ensuring that interference with TV transmissions is avoided. For the time being, Ofcom intends to prioritise the use of geolocation databases. Geolocation databases work by storing up-to-date information about white spaces and communicating this information to white space devices. Based on the location of the device, the database will determine which channels and power levels the device can use without causing interference. As a back-stop measure, Ofcom intends to require all white space devices to contain a “kill switch” so that the device can be disabled if it causes harmful interference. Ofcom also plans to follow closely ongoing trials (in the Isle of Bute and Cambridge) to assess whether the use of geolocation databases is effective in preventing harmful interference.
Ofcom intends to allow the market to drive and determine the number of geolocation database providers, and whether databases are made available on an “open” (accessible to all devices) or “closed” (restricted access) basis. Anybody wanting to operate a geolocation database will have to be Ofcom-accredited.
The next step is for Ofcom to put out to consultation draft legislation to exempt white space devices from the licence requirements under the Wireless Telegraphy Act. Ofcom also plans to look further into:
- The security of white space devices and geolocation databases
- The legal responsibilities and liabilities of database providers
- The detailed requirements for the operation of geolocation databases
- Working with other European regulators to develop EU-wide harmonised standards for devices. Ofcom’s view is that the current absence of EU-wide standards should not prevent the UK from pressing ahead with allowing licence-exempt use of white space channels. Rather, as an early adopter, the UK will be able to inform and steer the development of European standards.