Mark SayManaging EditorTuesday 17 February 2015

Public sector breaks into white space

Ofcom gives green light to further development of gaps in spectrum, and lays ground for new digital services infrastructure

Digital TV repeaterThe prospects for 'white space' in the radio spectrum being used for public services, such as flood warnings and smart city networks, has received a boost after communications regulator Ofcom declared it is ready to move on from a group of pilot projects.

It has begun to lay the ground for industry to develop new services based on white space. A handful of public sector bodies have been involved in the pilots, some of which indicate the potential for the use of the technology in public services.

White space is the unused parts of the digital TV spectrum, between 470-790 MHz, that can be used on a non-licensed basis for new wireless applications. Ofcom's new report on the trials, published last week, says it is possible to minimise the risk of interference in the TV signals from existing spectrum users. It will now work on the databases of available white space that make this possible and defining the requirements for relevant devices.

The report says it is too early to establish all the uses for white space, but there are signs of it having a potential in public services.

One of the pilots, run by the University of Strathclyde with Microsoft, has received significant backing from the Scottish Government. It is aimed at exploiting white space to support the use of machine to machine connectivity and the internet of things - a key element in the development of smart cities - the extension of broadband in rural areas, and the development of stronger wi-fi around city centres.

The Scottish Government has described the project as an integral part of realising its 2020 Vision for health and social care.

Another project has involved King's College London, the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission and the Eurecom research centre in France, and been focused on rooftop and long distance white space links. These could be used for security, emergency and disaster relief purposes.

Oxford flood warnings

Other pilots include one involving a community group in Oxford and internet infrastructure company Nominet to use white space with an array of special devices to provide flood warnings. There are also projects to provide broadband connections for ships and boats, video streams and the development of digital signage. These are initially focused on the private sector but could have future potential in public services.

Philip Marnick, Ofcom Spectrum Group director said: "Ofcom is laying the foundations for industry to use database controlled spectrum sharing to deliver innovative new services to benefit consumers and businesses.
"Spectrum is an important but limited resource, which is why we're exploring new ways of unlocking its potential, while balancing the needs of different users."

Picture: Akune digital TV repeater, by Sanjp | public domain