UK first European country to permit use of white space spectrum

On 1 September 2011, Ofcom published a statement outlining its intention to permit the use of white space spectrum in some of the the bands currently used for TV (470-790 MHz). Ofcom’s policy will be implemented through a statutory instrument which will make relevant devices licence exempt. This is in contrast to the approach of auctioning licences for adjacent 800 MHz spectrum being adopted by Ofcom for digital dividend spectrum.

Ofcom confirmed its prior intention to use geolocation databases (rather than alternative approaches such as sensing or beacons) to prevent harmful interference and that it intends to allow competition to develop between database providers, rather than mandate or licence a single database provider. It will now work to develop a set of minimum standards to be met by database providers who wish to become accredited and identify appropriate mechanisms to ensure that database providers are able to gain access to the required data.

With the UK ‘front-running’ on this issue in Europe there are currently no applicable harmonised European technical standards that can be referred to for the purposes of the licence exemption so Ofcom proposes to reference ‘Interface Requirements’ that will initially in turn reference a voluntary national standard, with an expectation that this will be superseded by applicable European standards when available.

Ofcom’s hope is that use of this spectrum will significantly increase the availability of mobile broadband – no doubt inspired by reports from the US, and continues to monitor closely the trial being run in Cambridge to inform its detailed implementation.