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Ofcom proposes using FM radio band for rural broadband

Poor infrastructure and low housing density ares some reasons why broadband services in rural places remain poor

By CBR Staff Writer

Communications regulator Ofcom has proposed that the airwaves that will be freed up following the UK’s switch from analogue to digital radio be used to provide rural broadband services.

The technology works by identifying unoccupied radio waves called "white spaces" to transmit and receive wireless signals, said Ofcom.

Speaking at the Radio Centre members’ conference today, Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said that White Space Devices could be new users of the freed up FM radio airwaves to deliver mobile broadband in very sparsely populated areas.

Ofcom published its first interactive fixed line broadband map of the UK a few days ago.

It showed that across the UK as a whole, 68% of UK premises have a fixed broadband connection, and the average maximum speed is 7.5Mbps (excluding superfast broadband connections).

However, most rural areas have lower speeds and a greater proportion of customers who receive speeds less than 2Mbps. Ofcom cites poor infrastructure and low housing density as reasons for this disparity.

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White Space Devices are being designed to use a much wider range of frequencies than Blu-tooth or Wi-Fi. They can also make use of lower frequencies that have traditionally been reserved for TV and radio.

Richards said, "We believe that any release of new spectrum has great potential to enable innovation and growth in new applications and services."

"Spectrum is a resource that is in huge demand, fuelled by the recent explosion in smart phones and other wireless technologies. However there is only a limited amount of it to go around, which means we need to start thinking more creatively about how it is used. White Space Devices could offer an effective solution," he added.

The anticipated switch for radio in the UK from analogue to digital is expected to free up as much as 50% of the capacity currently used to deliver FM radio services.

Richards said the first principle has to be that any future use of the FM band is an efficient use of radio spectrum.

He said, "There must be certainty for smaller and community stations, that do not move across to DAB. These will continue to play their important role, and FM is an appropriate technology for the scale at which they operate."

"White Space Devices offer a creative solution that would not only use spectrum to its full capacity, but would also work along side existing smaller FM radio stations. This could be done without causing interference and without any commercial conflict.

"This approach not only would spur on technological innovation but it could also further restrict the opportunity for pirates to fill in the gaps caused by careful spectrum planning," he said.

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