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Ofcom's pilot starts seeing signs

First spectrum map of the UK

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We're one month into a four-month trial attempting to map radio spectrum usage in the UK and the companies involved are already turning up some interesting and occasionally downright odd results.

The idea of the trial is to establish if mapping spectrum usage is a sensible thing to do - whether useful information can be gathered at a reasonable cost. But after only a month CRFS, the company providing the analysis kit, is confident enough to present the ongoing results to a group of interested spectrum professionals, including the nice chaps at Policy Tracker.

The project uses spectrum-scanning technology from CRFS mounted onto roof-racks, which are in turn fitted to 15 cars belonging to an unnamed sales company that has drivers regularly traversing the country. As the drivers go about their usual business, the roof racks log spectrum use to a USB key which is then uploaded to produce country-wide maps.

Some of the results are unremarkable - hardly anyone in the UK is transmitting around 3GHz, but 866MHz is almost equally clear of users, which is more of a surprise. More directly worrying is the amount of usage happening around 2.6GHz; spectrum that is due to be auctioned off next year but will be distinctly less valuable if it turns out to be full of squatters. They could just be legacy users who've not yet moved on - the Performance & Special Events crowd hang out there some times - but any buyer will expect a clearer field than exists at the moment.

Anyone hoping to use GPS around Meadowhall, a shopping complex near Sheffield, should be aware of an unusually high spike in the frequencies used by the satellite location service. This could be attributed to a welder or similar sparking equipment, but only more testing will determine if it's really an attempt by the owners of Meadowhall to ensure people stop to ask for directions.

Even more bizarre is the 1.075GHz spike in the middle of Millom in Cumbria. This emanates from the square in the centre of the North-eastern town, without propagating down nearby streets, indicating a vertical transmission, but where it's coming from is anyone's guess.

This information has been gathered in a month, using 15 cars. CRFS would like to have 30 vehicles and 1000 static monitoring points to create a comprehensive radio-usage map of the UK. But that will take money, and even with promises that the £12,000 cost of the roof racks can be reduced there is still a question as to who is going to pay for the creation and upkeep of such a map.

Ofcom is the obvious option, but for the moment it lacks the mandate and the funds to pay for such a thing, despite the obvious value to both radio network operators and the general public. ®

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