Ofcom lays out plans for “Wi-Fi on steroids”

Rural areas could benefit from better broadband alternatives under plans to make a new section of radio spectrum available to wireless services.

Ofcom lays out plans for

Ofcom has launched a consultation to look into the regulatory and technical issues involved in “white space technology” and said it expected it to be available by the end of next year.

“White space technology” refers to equipment that could be used to provide wireless broadband in the spectrum currently reserved for television signals, between 500MHz and 800MHz, where space is left between channels to counter interference.

“The white space could be used for several new technologies and broadband situations,” Professor William Webb, director of technology resources at Ofcom, told PC Pro.

In rural deployments, where the transmitter is placed on a large mast and is directional, there have been trials with a range of many miles

According to Ofcom, the key to making the technology work involves a system to search for unused space between the television stations, and use that space without interfering with the broadcast signals.

The consultation will examine how devices can do this by cross-checking a “geolocation database” that contains live information about which frequencies are free at that specific location.

The technology that could be deployed in the spectrum remains unclear – described by Ofcom as “Wi-Fi on steroids” – but the key benefits for rural areas could be improved signal coverage and bandwidth.

“We don’t know what people will use yet,” said Webb. “It might be that they’ll use Wi-Fi that’s been brought down to work in those frequencies, they might use WiMAX or something new altogether.

“As with the 2.4GHz spectrum people use it for all sort of different technologies, from Wi-Fi to video repeaters and Bluetooth.”

Rural ideal

Whereas standard Wi-Fi is limited to around 100m, the lower frequency signals in the white space can travel between 500m and 600m, depending on conditions and location, and could reach much further in rural areas.

“In rural deployments, where the transmitter is placed on a large mast and is directional, there have been trials with a range of many miles,” Webb said. “There’s still a lot to learn – such as whether you would need an external antenna – but this is certainly promising as a rural broadband solution.”

Ofcom said white space signals were also better at penetrating buildings and that hardware to run on the system would be license-exempt in the same way as current Wi-Fi routers.

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