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BEIRG wins extension

The deadline for responses to Ofcom's consultation on white space devices passed this week, but it has granted an extension to industry pressure group BEIRG (British Entertainment Industry Radio Group) until 1st February 2011, writes Kevin Hilton.

The deadline for responses to Ofcom‘s consultation on white space devices passed this week (Tuesday 7th December) but the UK regulator and frequency licensing body has granted an extension to industry pressure group BEIRG (British Entertainment Industry Radio Group) until 1st February 2011, writes Kevin Hilton.

BEIRG has voiced concern over plans for the wireless communication technology, which will lead to the creation of a new generation of low power handheld devices that can search for unused radio waves in between TV channels. Computer companies and mobile phone operators are keen to exploit the potential of white space in the spectrum but the PMSE (programme makers and special events) sector and broadcasters are worried that the technology will cause inference on wireless production equipment and TV transmissions.

Ofcom proposes that white space devices will be licence exempt. And although the regulator’s head of R&D, Professor William Webb, is regarded as being keen on such systems becoming reality, an Ofcom spokesman says it is not up to the regulatory body to introduce these systems. “We are just responsible for setting up a regulatory framework,” he explains. “Subject to the outcome of the consultation most of this work is now complete. So it is now over to industry to develop products and build the necessary databases.”

BEIRG spokesman Alan March is particularly concerned at the prospect of unlicensed devices in licensed space. “We don’t know who is going to host all this,” he says. “And we are worried about vested interests that are looking to promote the technology. From our perspective the situation could be damaging. We’ve been presented with a lot of high level maths that proves there won’t be any interference but nobody will really know until they come into operation.”

March says the four-week consultation period was not long enough to draw up technical arguments and contact Members of Parliament to support and speak up for the PMSE sector in the House of Commons. BEIRG applied for an extension two weeks ago, which was granted, but March wonders why this was not offered to other interested parties.

Ofcom says extensions were available for those involved in the consultation process, providing they could provide a good reason for needing more time. “For example, a particular piece of technical analysis they want to do,” explains the spokesman. “So far, nobody has asked us for an extension on this basis.”

March is not just worried about interference to PMSE signals but also whether white space devices could affect digital terrestrial television (DTT) transmissions. “There are more TV services out there than wireless frequencies,” he says, “and there is huge potential for viewers not to receive good TV pictures any more.”

UK TV transmission operator and broadcast services group Arqiva is more circumspect about this but its head of strategy development, Peter Couch, says more needs to be learned about what the new technology could bring.

“There are still significant unknowns with regard to white space devices,” he comments. “Clearly Arqiva has a keen interest in ensuring that whatever approach Ofcom adopts does not in any way compromise PMSE users or DTT reception in the UK. We have been arguing for appropriate protection of both. It’s not yet clear what type of applications white space devices may deliver and this will be critically dependent on a common approach across Europe and this is being consulted on at the European level. So while our biggest concern is the potential impact on PMSE, there are also concerns about DTT – especially on secondary and tertiary sets.”