Ofcom announces proposals for white space mobile broadband

CITY-WIDE Wi-Fi networks could be launched by the end of next year, the communications regulator said yesterday, as it published proposals to free up unused parts of the airwaves for internet signals.

Ofcom said that it was opening a consultation on “white spaces” – the gaps in between bands of spectrum used to broadcast TV.

At the frequencies that these white spaces exist, signals can travel much further and more easily between walls than traditional Wi-Fi or Bluetooth networks. This raises the possibility of wireless internet networks on a much bigger scale than at present.

Yesterday’s announcement is the latest move from Ofcom as it tries to open up as much of the airwaves as possible in order to avert a nationwide “capacity crunch”. The amount of data consumed over mobile networks has more than doubled this year, and chief executive Ed Richards is anticipating demand up to 80 times higher than today by 2030.

“From rural broadband to enhanced Wi-Fi, white space technology offers significant opportunities for innovation and enterprise in the UK,” Richards said.

“It also represents a fundamentally different approach to using spectrum by searching and recycling unused gaps in the airwaves. This could prove critical in averting a global spectrum capacity crunch, as consumers demand more bandwidth over different devices.”

The consultation is now open until mid-January. When it closes, Ofcom will consult with European authorities and finalise its arrangements. It hopes to free up the first white spaces by the end of 2013. BT has already been trialling white space technology in rural Britain.