The UK’s independent communications regulator Ofcom has progressed plans for the introduction of White Space technology in the UK – the first country in Europe to do so. The technology uses gaps in the TV spectrum (typically between 470 and 790MHz) to transmit long range signals that can easily penetrate walls. This makes the technology suitable for a wide range of new consumer applications that could include rural broadband and Wi-Fi with up to twice the range of today’s technology.

The technology works by searching for unused areas of the airwaves or gaps called ‘White Spaces’ that exist in bands that have until now been reserved for TV broadcasts. White Spaces can offer significant capacity to help alleviate pressures on other wireless networks. Applications include long range WiFi, rural broadband and M2M communications.

White Space technology will use a wireless router (or master device) in a similar way to Wi-Fi, but it will first need to consult a list of databases hosted online. It will notify one of these databases of its location and update it on a regular basis. The database will then return details of the radio-frequencies and power levels it is allowed to use. This will ensure that the devices do not interfere with existing licensed users of the spectrum, which include Digital Terrestrial Television and wireless microphone users.

Ofcom has decided to allow multiple third-party providers to develop databases, which will create a competitive marketplace and incentivise operators to provide the best database service to consumers.

Ofcom has also decided to make White Space devices licence exempt. This means that they will be allowed to operate without the need for an Ofcom licence on the condition that they do not cause harmful interference to existing users of the spectrum.

The next step is for Ofcom to consult on a draft Statutory Instrument to make white space devices licence exempt. Ofcom also plans to work with stakeholders to make information about existing licensed services that operate in the TV band available to prospective database providers. Ofcom will also specify and potentially consult further on the database requirements and the providers that wish to be accredited by Ofcom.

Ofcom expects that White Space technology could be launched in the UK in 2013. The regulator is also considering the future use of other White Spaces – such as those in the band currently used by FM radio services.