New wireless technology is three years away

In the middle of nowhere and can’t use your mobile phone?

Well, finally, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries – Ofcom – has published a discussion document to explore the potential of a new technology that could wirelessly link up different devices and offer enhanced broadband access in rural areas.

The technology works by searching for unoccupied radio waves – called white spaces – between television channels to transmit and receive wireless signals. Compared with other forms of wireless technology, such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, white space devices are being designed to use lower frequencies that have traditionally been reserved for tv.

Signals at these frequencies travel further and more easily through walls. This will potentially allow a new wave of technological innovation in wireless communications. Although at least three years away from commercial production, possible applications include:

  • Improved mobile broadband access in rural areas
  • Digital cameras that can automatically transmit photos back to your computer as soon as you click the shutter
  • The ability to control appliances in your home – such as the oven and central heating – hundreds of miles away.

However, white space devices must first prove they can operate without interfering with tv broadcasts and other wireless technologies that share these frequencies, such as wireless microphones. A promising solution is for devices to do this is by consulting a geolocation database that contains live information about which frequencies are free to use at their current location.

Ofcom’s discussion document focuses on the issues that need to be addressed for this solution to work. If there is strong evidence to show that white space devices can coexist with neighbouring tv signals and wireless microphones without causing interference, then Ofcom would allow them to use the frequencies without the need for individual licences. However, this technology remains largely unproven and a significant amount of work needs to be done before these claims can be tested.

The purpose of Ofcom’s discussion document is to further the thinking that is taking place around the world on geolocation and speed the development of possible solutions.

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