White space broadband gets green light in UK

The British telecoms regulator Ofcom has formally approved the deployment of white-space broadband technology in the U.K., following trials.

White space broadband uses the empty buffer zones that are placed between TV channels to stop them bleeding into one another. The broadband technology glues together these patches of spectrum and, as pilots around the world have shown, it can do so without interfering with the TV transmissions. This is achieved through the use of databases that tell the client device which spectrum it can use in which location and at which time.

Ofcom said on Thursday that it hopes the technology can be deployed in the U.K. by the end of this year.

“This decision helps ensure the U.K. takes a leading role in the development of innovative new wireless technology,” acting Ofcom CEO Steve Unger said in a statement. “It is also an important step in helping the U.K.’s wireless infrastructure evolve effectively and efficiently.”

White space technology may work, but few countries have thus far authorized its use due to concerns over interference. The only commercial deployment I have so far seen was that of a student-oriented network in Ghana, with [company]Microsoft[/company]’s involvement, which went live last month after an on-campus pilot.

The lack of widespread regulatory movement on white space broadband has already forced some in the industry to look to different spectrum for supporting their new internet-of-things networks. That’s a pity, as it works very well for sensor networks, and indeed it’s being tested out in the U.K. for flood defenses and smart city webcams and sensors.

Apart from that, the technology is also good at delivering web access over long distances and into buildings — just like TV broadcasts, funnily enough — and therefore has a lot of potential for both urban and rural broadband provision. As I saw for myself at a [company]Google[/company] trial in my native Cape Town, it’s no fiber competitor but it can make a real difference in areas where fixed-line providers are loath to roll out decent infrastructure.