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Blighty's fast mobe broadband in music wrecking probe

Wireless kit blasted with LTE rays for a month

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On Monday Ofcom will run tests in Baldock to find out whether next-gen mobile broadband networks will knacker headphones and microphones, ruining Brits' enjoyment of music.

Lots of short-range wireless devices use frequencies just above the bands Ofcom will be flogging off for LTE use next year. Although the regulator is pretty sure interference won't be a problem, it has invited concerned manufacturers to visit the Hertfordshire countryside and find out how their kit responds to Blighty's version of 4G.

Ofcom commissioned a batch of testing last year, and discovered that intruder alarms, cordless headphones, microphones, smart meters and RFID tags were all vulnerable to interference from LTE if they were put close enough, but such devices are required to mitigate against interference anyway so shouldn't be operationally impacted.

The mega-auction of frequencies, scheduled for later this year, will include a chunk of spectrum from 790-862MHz which used to be filled with analogue TV but is now vacant thanks to the switch to digital - a tech that contracted telly down the dial. Just above that band is an unlicensed slot for low-powered devices, such as domestic headphones, which have been happily neighbouring analogue TV for years but now need to get used to having LTE next door.

Ofcom has already established that digital TV isn't going to like having LTE adjacent to it, and is putting aside £180m to deal with that issue, but the short-range devices above the band are generally more robust having always had to play nicely with each other if not anyone else.

The unlicensed nature of the 863-865MHz band led to all sorts of low-power kit coexisting, and having to cope with interference from each other, so when Ofcom tested a raft of gadgets [PDF, the good bit is on page 6] it found they'd cope quite adequately with any interference.

But the regulator wants to be sure, so has set up a testing site which will run up an example LTE network until the end of June, so engineers who want to be sure their gear will work next year should make an appointment [PDF] and pop along to check. ®

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