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White space pilot announced. Hopes high for 2014 service launch

The UK regulatory agency announced on Friday that it was ready to ask interested companies and bodies to take part in a pilot trial of white space wireless technology, designed to make use of the gaps between TV channels.

The idea is to allay fears of interference of the sort of that stymied LTE wholesale play, Lightsquared, a couple of years’ ago.

These white spaces - found down in the attractive, wall-penetrating part of the spectrum - have been termed a "digital divided" and are becoming available all around the world as countries switch to digital television transmission.

Various uses have been proposed: for fixed wireless broadband, for instance, especially in rural areas where conventional access is too expensive. That application has gathered a lot of interest in the US where rural coverage is a problem and a political issue.

In the UK the main focus has been with Neul’s Weightless, a system optimised for M2M applications - low-powered and designed for light and intermittent transmissions.

The UK has just completed a consultation period over the use of the spaces and now Ofcom has announced a trial period where different wireless systems and applications are to be tested to ensure they can work together.

The trial will be very much about the sharing mechanism - which uses a database look-up to ensure specific spectrum can be used in particular geographies without interference. The idea is that the white spaces will be licensed but shared, so sitting half-way between WiFi (completely public and contended) and cell (privately owned and manged).

The Ofcom announcement, which envisages the trial being complete and a go-ahead being given in the third quarter of 2014, actually throws the ball back to the industry to come up with some trial participants for a pilot and to formulate some locations and a general plan, says William Webb of Neul (the company behind Weightless) .

“I actually think we’ve been given a very strong signal from Ofcom that resources are going to be concentrated on White Spaces now,” said Webb.

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