The UK's white spaces radio-sharing framework could be a taste of things to come for other parts of the spectrum. By I.D. Scales.
UK regulator Ofcom is going to institute a spectrum sharing arrangement for those little white spaces between TV channels that have been getting everyone excited for the last five years or so. And it is to arrive next year.
All this was expected by the industry of course, but Ofcom's most recent announcement outlines the technical framework and gives a final green light for late next year. The idea is that WiFi-like services could take advantage of the attractive characteristics of spectrum in the 470 MHz and 790 MHz range, where the bandwidth generated is not necessarily fast or broad, but does go a long way and through walls. For that reason it's been identified as a good thing for M2M and Internet of Things applications and is being targeted by the likes of Nuel (see - TV white spaces targetted for M2M-optimised radio tech
) and also for rural broadband.
But the implications of Ofcom's spectrum sharing approach might be broader - if it works there will be cries for it to be applied in other bands.
The licensed monopoly approach to spectrum allocation has been creaking for a decade or so (some would say much longer). It's easy to see why. Time was when it was only prudent - from a regulatory point of view - to carefully farm out frequency bands for different uses with strict conditions attached because of all the scope for interference. But with highly intelligent radio networks and end-devices, all driven by software, the old arrangements are starting to look unfit for purpose.
As the demand for wireless applications and capacity continues to grow (although not as quickly as some would have us believe) and the rate of development and change continues to accelerate, the industry has been giving serious thought to how the available spectrum might be utilised to the max.
More dynamic arrangements allowing different networks to use spectrum in different ways in different geographies seems to make a lot of sense. Spectrum sharing in other words.
Needless to say, this is highly contentious since it threatens the basis of existing radio network business models.
This is how it will work in the case of UK white space allocation. There will be no need for the licensing of devices in the old sense. Instead, they will perform a 'lookup' (presumably on a specific frequency using a specific protocol) on an online database to get permission to transmit. The database will have information on where geographically, and at what power levels, particular slivers of spectrum can be used. It will then give permission to go (or not). Devices will have to check in to the database every 24 hours to continue transmitting . The databases will be licenced by the regulator and will presumably be run by the specific operators delivering the white space services.
In the UK all this is expected to gel next year with the first services up and running at the end of 2013.
If it works wonderfully well there will be pressure to apply the same sharing rules to other chunks of 'spare' spectrum as and when these become available.
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