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Dutch army digs in on spare spectrum rest of Europe could use

Needs bands no one else uses to talk to itself

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Early next year Ofcom is planning another consultation on two bands around 900MHz with a view to opening them up for unlicensed use, having established that only the Dutch care about them.

The bands are empty in the UK, so the EU telco body CEPT has been asking around to see if the bands are being used elsewhere, and discovered that in general they're pretty clear and ripe for allocating to Short Range Devices such as keyfobs and remote controls licence free - except in the Netherlands where the bands are full of shiny new military transmissions.

There are two bands, one running from 870-876 and the other from 915-921MHz. The bottom 2MHz of each band currently belongs to the Ministry of Defence in the UK but they've no use for it and have said Ofcom is welcome to take it over. Elsewhere the picture isn't quite so uniform; most of the 42 countries responding to the CEPT questionnaire said it was empty, or emptying, though Bulgaria is keeping it for governmental use and the Dutch military has just bought a load of new radio kit on those bands so won't be clearing out any time soon.

That's important as it prevents devices using the bands being sold across Europe, reducing the economies of scale and complicating the shipping and stocking of products. The free flow of electronics around Europe makes regional differences very hard to accomodate, as we saw with early wi-fi devices which had to drop several channels in Spain and France, a restriction which couldn't be effectively maintained.

The chunks are typical of fragments littered across the radio spectrum, existing only for historical reasons and almost impossible to properly utilise. The only safe way to fill them would be something akin to the White Space system, which uses a central database to tell devices what bands they can use based on their location. White Space is designed for bands geographically limited by TV transmissions, but the same process could be applied to bands geographically limited by national regulators, and its hard to imagine any other way to fill these fragments.

But Ofcom is full of ideas, and will be publishing some of them early next year for public consultation, assuming it can find the time. ®

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