As the demand for data grows — spurred on by global increases in sales of smartphones and other electronic mobile devices — governments and businesses look to uncharted waters to supply the need. Of course, data needs spectrum across which to flow, and the appeal of so-called white spaces is growing to various countries exploring how best to take advantage of available spectrum for increasing data demand. The U.K. is the latest to jump on board the white-spaces train as Ofcom — a London-based telecom regulator — will initiate a trial of white space usage.
White spaces are sections of unused radio frequency bands that are maintained to ensure television airwaves do not interfere with each other; as TV goes digital, these bands become superfluous. Governments including the U.S., Kenya, and South Africa have begun testing white space spectrum for potential broadband usage with the help of major tech companies like Google and Microsoft. White space access in rural regions of Africa is aimed at helping small businesses to leverage the internet to improve growth and to bring internet connectivity to some schools. Ofcom’s trial will test whether or not white spaces in certain regions of the U.K. are viable for wireless broadband coverage — particularly in rural areas.
The appeal of using white spaces lies in their capability to transmit data over long distances, but this benefit comes at the sacrifice of high speeds. Should Ofcom find the U.K.’s white space spectrum sustainable for internet use, commercial ISPs could be getting clearance from the body to use frequencies as early as 2014. Such extended coverage would be low-frequency, but provide for gaps in the U.K.’s broadband scene. The spectrum can also serve for machine-to-machine networks — the next hot topic in communications and consumer technology. As “the internet of things” gains traction, and as major wireless providers seek to get footholds in the machine-to-machine market, broadening wireless coverage will bolster the growth of this industry as well.
Even with initial action in 2014 on the part of broadband providers, it could be some time before the true capabilities of white spaces are fully leveraged in the U.K. After all, California only just set up the first internet network over white spaces even though the U.S. FCC agreed to open the spectrum for unlicensed use in November 2008. But with giving rural areas access to the internet, and widening licensed spectrum for data exchange – potentially for machine-to-machine use — the U.K. is making strides to improve its country-wide communications technology.