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Ofcom green lights white space pilot

UK broadcasting and spectrum regulator Ofcom's announcement of a pilot scheme for white space devices has raised new concerns over possible interference from the new technology on digital TV transmissions and wireless microphones.

UK broadcasting and spectrum regulator Ofcom’s announcement of a pilot scheme for white space devices has raised new concerns over possible interference from the new technology on digital TV transmissions and productions using wireless microphones. The TV White Spaces scheme is among the first of its type in Europe and is due to start during the last quarter of this year. White spaces are the gaps between radio frequencies and putting these to practical use has been part of Ofcom’s plans for the reorganisation of spectrum since it first made public its proposals in 2006. Big technology players including Microsoft are looking at the white space between frequencies used for digital terrestrial television (DTT) and PMSE (programme makers and special events), which includes wireless microphones and in-ear monitors, for a new applications such as rural broadband, “Wi-Fi-like services” and machine-to-machine (M2M) networks. The UK government is keen to expand support for new telecom services, starting with 4G and moving into mobile broadband. In response to this Ofcom is planning to make more spectrum available in the future, possibly from the 700MHz band, for so-called 5G high-speed data links. Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards (pictured), comments, “Ofcom is preparing for a future where consumers’ demand for data services will experience huge growth. This will be fuelled by smartphones, tablets and other new wireless applications. White space technology is one creative way that this demand can be met. We are aiming to facilitate this important innovation by working closely with industry.” The views for and against white space devices were put during a stakeholders’ meeting with Ofcom on 26 April. Representatives from Microsoft, Neul, spectrum management company Spectrum Bridge, the BBC and PMSE industry body BEIRG (British Entertainment Industry Radio Group) put their respective cases in a series of presentations. Stephen Baily from the BBC said that while M2M and new broadband services were “interesting technical opportunities”, the new technology did pose risks to DTT, especially where there was weak coverage. He concluded that how affected DTT viewers might recognise, report and mitigate against white space device interference was unclear, so mechanisms to control any interference needed to be obvious. Alan March, representing both BEIRG and the Association of Professional Wireless Production Technologies, said that “solid evaluation and testing needs to continue”, with trials being “limited” at first and only in locations where disruption to existing “revenue generating” PMSE services can be avoided. He added that BEIRG believes that in the early days channels 36, 37 and 38 need to remain free of white space device activity. Arqiva operates the DTT transmission systems for both the BBC and commercial broadcasters in the UK. Group strategy and business development director Wendy McMillan, comments, “White space is a rapidly evolving area that has the potential to seed some very interesting innovations. The key to ensuring its success will be to work through the customer experience and ensure that TV viewers, and others using adjacent spectrum bands, are in no way adversely impacted by the use of white space spectrum.” Ofcom “anticipates” that white space technology could be fully deployed in the UK during 2014.