Telecoms regulator Ofcom has announced plans for a pilot of white space technology in the UK, to explore how it could be used to provide broadband access for rural communities or new machine-to-machine (M2M) applications.

White space technology uses gaps in radio spectrum which exist in between frequency bands. In this case, the white spaces being used are between the bands used for digital terrestrial TV broadcasting and wireless microphones.

Making use of this spectrum is important, because spectrum itself is a limited resource that is in huge demand, driven by the explosion in smartphones, tablets and other wireless applications. White space devices offer a way to use spectrum that would otherwise lie fallow.

Compared with other forms of wireless technologies, such as regular Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, the radio waves used by white space devices can travel longer distances and more easily through walls, because they use the lower frequencies that have traditionally been reserved for TV.

The pilot, which Ofcom describes as among the first of its kind in Europe, will take place in the autumn. It will test the inter-operation of white spaces devices, white space databases and the processes to mitigate against causing any undue interference to current spectrum users.

Following a successful completion of the pilot, Ofcom anticipates that the technology could be fully rolled out during 2014, enabling the use of white space devices across the country.

“Ofcom is preparing for a future where consumers’ demand for data services will experience huge growth. This will be fuelled by smartphones, tablets and other new wireless applications,” said Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive.

“White space technology is one creative way that this demand can be met. We are aiming to facilitate this important innovation by working closely with industry.”

Ofcom is particularly keen to ensure that white space technology does interfere with TV signals. It has therefore decreed that a white space device will not be able to start transmitting until it gets clearance from a database qualified by Ofcom and listed on a dedicated Ofcom website.

This database will provide updated information on where the TV white spaces are and the power level that devices would need to be restricted to if they wanted to use them, to ensure there is no undue interference.

Earlier this year, Cambridge-based wireless firm Neul launched the world’s first transceiver chip to operate over the white space spectrum. The chip, known as Iceni, operates from 470MHz to 790MHz, and supports both 6 MHz and 8 MHz channel bandwidths.

Using this spectrum, Neul is able to deliver reliable, secure, long range wireless connectivity for M2M applications using the “Weightless” wireless standard, which is specifically designed for embedding in objects such as electricity and gas meters, air quality sensors, recycling points, street lighting, parking spaces and traffic lights.

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