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Ofcom mulls use of FM white spaces for rural broadband

Friday, July 8th 2011
The regulator has said the gaps between radio stations could be used to boost the UK's broadband coverage.
Ofcom mulls use of FM white spaces for rural broadband
Ofcom is mulling over allowing internet service providers (ISPs) to take advantage of the unused white spaces between FM radio stations to deliver broadband to rural areas.

Speaking at the Radio Centre members' conference, the regulator's chief executive Ed Richards identified white space-enabled devices as potential users of newly available FM spectrum.

It is expected that at some point in the future, all large-scale radio stations will migrate to digital and cease broadcasting via analogue channels - a process that could free up as much as 50 per cent of the current capacity used for FM.

Mr Richards has therefore proposed that these white spaces be adopted to improve the UK's current levels of broadband coverage.

The technology works by locating radio waves that are unoccupied and utilising them to send and receive wireless broadband signals. According to Ofcom, this system could prove especially effective at delivering mobile broadband and other "innovative applications" to very sparsely populated parts of the country.

Over recent months, the telecoms industry watchdog has been considering ways that the white spaces between digital TV channels can be used for the provision of broadband without interrupting television reception.

However, Ofcom insisted there is no reason the same principles cannot be applied to FM radio waves.

Explaining the proposals, Mr 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. 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 technology is widely seen as a viable means to bring broadband to rural areas, with a consortium led by Microsoft - including BT and Sky - launching a trial of the service in Cambridge at the end of last month.

Dan Reed, an executive at Microsoft responsible for its technology strategy, told the Financial Times it is important that all available airwaves are used "efficiently and wisely".

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