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Ofcom plays precog on tomorrow's wireless world

Nuke war, meteorite hit could disrupt your signal

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Ofcom put healthcare and transport at the top of the agenda in its annual research and development report, released today.

Most of the report, entitled The Wireless World of Tomorrow, is concerned with the technical details of frequencies and allocations, but Ofcom can't resist a gaze into the crystal ball with predictions of Wi-Fi-enabled heart-rate monitors and in-car congestion warning systems.

Ofcom also can't shake off its love of new technologies. Dynamic Spectrum Access - handsets that pick a frequency on the basis of local usage - get a vote of support, as does the future of copper wires.

The regulator spent some of the last year establishing the theoretical limit of ADSL as 50Mb/sec, to homes within 2km of the exchange. That assumes someone fits a nice fat pipe, fiber perhaps, to the exchange to connect all those homes to the wider internet.

Ofcom admits its predictions are based on a very optimistic view of the UK's economic development, but justifies that on the basis that for spectrum usage fast economic growth is a worst-case scenario - the more money we have the more wireless technology we'll be able to afford.

The report acknowledges that many things could slow spectrum usage: "A large asteroid impact or regional nuclear war are two examples considered."

But assuming civilisation survives, Ofcom sees wireless providing solutions to a host of problems over the next 20 years.

On the roads "congestion will be a thing of the past", thanks to in-car information about traffic problems linked to GPS navigation systems, and "an aim of zero accidents ... now looks realistic" with technologies such as Electronic Brake Lights that inform cars that someone in front is braking, rather than waiting for the fleshy bit behind the wheel to react.

Medical use of wireless is also set to explode with wireless sensors inside the body communicating with on-body electronics, that connect to in-ambulance systems that integrate hospital records to provide paramedics with information on their hand-held computers.

Ofcom admits that in-body systems might not be widespread over the next 20 years, but the rest of the scenario is expected to happen, and is going to need at least one chunk of spectrum reserved for it - in stark contrast to its usual policy of selling frequencies to the highest bidder.

"Safety-critical data streams should be supported by dedicated spectrum," states the report, though it falls shy of defining exactly what counts as safety critical.

The automotive industry is expected to make more use of existing spectrum allocations. One of the biggest problems with putting wireless in cars is their tendency to travel between countries, so some standardisation of frequency allocation is going to be necessary, which means talking to the EU.

We'll be bringing you a more detailed look at both areas examined in the report over the next day or two, as well as the research Ofcom has lined up for the next 12 months - wireless entertainment. But if you can't wait then you can download the whole report (pdf) direct from Ofcom ®

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