White space to reduce the bleak broadband future for rural areas?
The radio spectrum below 1 GHz is a limited finite resource and thus efficient use of it is something Ofcom has to manage. One advantage of the switching off of the old analogue TV spectrum has been more frequencies available for 4G, and TV White Space technology is looking to exploit the gaps in spectrum use across the UK.
TV White Space has potential access to a reasonable chunk of spectrum and with the appropriate management can operate so that it does not affect TV transmissions. The fact the technology works has been shown in various trials, one of the best known run by Cambridge Wireless.
So now we have Ofcom looking to pilot actual devices and uses for White Space services, be that short range inter-device communication or full blown rural broadband coverage. Though TV White Space may have less frequency to occupy in another five years or so if 4G or 5G are rolled out at the 700 MHz band with the corresponding shrinking of spectrum available for FreeView TV services.
While we see White Space as an interesting technology and one to complement other enhancements, if the speeds of 20 Mbps in a single 8 MHz spectrum block at a range 5km are the sum total of the efforts, it may really only be of use for isolated communities of 5 to 10 properties. The 2 Mbps Universal Service Commitment may have been the vision of what we all needed back in 2008 and 2009, but this is looking increasingly dated.
The technological race to find systems that delay the absolute need to deploy a full fibre (FTTH/FTTP) network in the UK are interesting, and if as a nation we are not ready to shoulder the burden of financing a true national fibre network, be that one with Openreach at its centre, or a new independent network then we will continue to evaluate this alternative technologies.