UK debate on “white space” spectrum heats up

UK regulator Ofcom has published a discussion document to explore the possibility of using so-called “white space” or interleaved spectrum to wirelessly link up different devices and offer enhanced broadband access in rural areas. The idea is based on the development of technology that could search for unoccupied radio waves between TV channels to transmit and receive wireless spectrum.

However, separately, local TV coalition United for Local Television (ULTV) has strongly criticised the regulator’s current proposal to appoint a “band manager” to control interleaved spectrum (and make it available to applications such as wireless microphones for special events) and to ensure that the spectrum is made available to local TV groups on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.

Interleaved or “white space” spectrum would use lower frequencies than current wireless technology spectrum used for Bluetooth and WiFi, giving a better ability to travel and move through walls inside buildings. Ofcom has said technology that could enable the use of the spectrum in this way would take at least three years to develop. Possible applications include mobile broadband, the transmission of home media such as photos from cameras to a computer wirelessly and the ability to control appliances in the home.

Ofcom’s latest discussion document focuses on the issues that need to be addressed – such as possible interference with TV signals and wireless microphones – before the spectrum could be used in this way. The regulator said that if there was evidence that interference could be avoided, it would allow the use of interleaved spectrum without the need for individual licences.

The ULTV has meanwhile sent an open letter to Ofcom chairman Collette Bowe demanding that Ofcom change its existing proposals for the regulation of interleaved spectrum. Under current proposals, Ofcom’s “band manager” would be required to allocate spectrum to special event organisers on fair and non-discriminatory terms but not to local TV groups, the organisation claims. “It is undeniable that asking prospective local TV service providers to attempt to negotiate spectrum access with an unregulated dominant band manager is the equivalent of asking David to wear a straightjacket to fight Goliath,” said Community Media Association executive director Jaqui Devereux in the letter. “It is clearly unacceptable for Ofcom to create a situation in which one commercial body has an effective unregulated monopoly over the spectrum required by local TV users to launch services.”

Separately, Ofcom has recommended a relaxation in cross-media ownership rules in the UK. Ofcom has said that the only restriction on cross-media ownership should be on companies holding all three of a local radio station, local newspapers with 50% or more of the local market share and a regional Channel 3 commercial TV licence.

Ofcom has also recommended the removal of rules around local radio services and local and national radio multiplex ownership.