Communications regulator Ofcom has revealed plans to extend the unlicensed use of white space technology to include FM radio airwaves.
White space technology can be used to deliver cost-efficient broadband access to rural communities and help manage wireless data demand in urban centres. Up until recently, however, the focus has largely been placed on the white spaces between digital TV channels.
"Spectrum is a resource that is in huge demand, fuelled by the recent explosion in smart phones and other wireless technologies," said Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive.
"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 the creative solution we are looking for".
Telecoms analyst Plum Consulting recently urged communications regulators to allow unused radio wave spectrum to be used for mobile broadband, as it believes it could benefit European economies by £48bn over the coming decade.
Ofcom is aware that if white space devices are developed, it is important that they do not interfere with existing wireless technologies that share the same frequencies. The solution that is currently being proposed would see devices consult with a "geolocation database" that contains live information about which frequencies are available to use at their current location.
White space applications use a wireless router to send and receive information to other wireless devices, similar to the way Wi-Fi devices operate. The router would consult a list of databases hosted online, and will describe its location and device characteristics to one of these databases on a regular basis.
The database will then return details of frequencies and power levels the router is allowed to use so that it does not interfere with other devices operating in its vicinity.
"This seems to us to be a potentially creative solution that would not only use spectrum to its full capacity, but would also work alongside existing smaller FM radio stations," said Richards.
"This could be done without causing interference and work in harmony with the aim of switchover from a radio perspective".