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Ofcom lays out wireless roadmap

Planes, trains and automobiles

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RFID is set to expand massively, according to Ofcom, which expects to see everyone working airside or near sea ports tagged and monitored in the interests of security.

But such systems won't be able to share a frequency in the way that RFID tags do, as they're always transmitting and few currently have the capability to share nicely, so the bands in which they operate (433MHz and 868MHz) could get increasingly crowded. Ofcom is very reluctant to hand over spectrum, though acknowledges RFID might need a little more over the next 15 years.

No such reservations apply to the automotive industry, for whom 50MHz of spectrum has been reserved around 5.9GHz. Ofcom isn't planning to hand over the whole swathe in one go. It'll initially allocate 30MHz (from 5.855 to 5.885GHz) with the next 20MHz being held back until it's started filling the first lot.

Not that car manufacturers will be required to pay for the spectrum. Unlike the trains there is no single body that can be charged and international harmonisation is needed (with the USA and Japan, for the moment), so frequencies will simply be allocated for vehicle manufacturers to use as they see fit.

Part of the band is reserved for "critical" systems, such as electronic brake lights that warn a whole line of cars when the one in front brakes. The rest is expected to be used for road condition warnings and other communication between vehicles.

Ofcom says communications with the road will take longer to develop as that involves working with government departments.

One development Ofcom is expecting to arrive quickly is eCall, part of the EU eSafety initiative. eCall puts a SIM and accompanying mobile phone into every car, which can than call the emergency services in the event of an accident - reporting on the state of the car and (possibly) the occupants.

Ofcom says eCall could reduce fatalities by 10 per cent by getting emergency services there 10 minutes earlier, but admits there's no business model for the poor network operator who has to keep track of millions of mobile phones that only make calls once they've hit each other. Appealing to their sense of decency would seem a lost cause, so some payment mechanism is going to be needed.

Driving is, of course, going to get a lot more expensive and there's a tacit acceptance of road pricing, though Ofcom carefully avoided the controversy that mentioning it explicitly would generate: "Travellers will have to accept that travelling at peak times on peak routes is expensive".

But when your mobile phone can tell you when the next bus is arriving and if will get to the station in time to catch the next train, who needs to drive anyway? ®

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