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Ofcom set to release interesting spectrum chunk for unlicenced use

Hobbyists, utilities and other radioheads prepare to charge the slot

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Following its January consultation Ofcom plans to release another 12MHz of spectrum into the unlicensed wilds, to the benefit of hobbyists and utilities alike.

The two bands start at 870 and 915MHz and are both 6MHz wide. In January Ofcom noted that the MoD hadn't yet agreed to the release, and that the EU was considering standardisation, but with both those issues resolved the way is open for more shared spectrum to be available within 12 months.

That will please utilities, who see the 917MHz band as well suited to smart metering - meshing meters together to share backhaul installed in a lamp post or similar - but it also permits US radios to be used in the UK with all sorts of applications.

Sparkfun, for example, sells a $45 radio module with a quoted range of 10km and a data rate of 156Kb/s. That would be ideal for measuring rainfall across a farm, or checking for open doors over a campus, or a multitude of other interesting apps.

Only Arqiva and JRC seriously objected to the proposal. Arqiva reckoned the band should be reserved for HAN (Home Area Networking - eg linking our Smart Meters to our broadband internet connections), while the JRC (Joint Radio Company, representing the utilities) suggested light licensing just in case interference turned up later, and to prevent hobbyists intruding into their space.

Utilities are really interested in these bands, as companies such as Silver Spring stand ready to fill them with meshed networks reporting back on our electricity usage. Right now Smart Meters, which have been mandated by the UK government, have to use cellular networks which is both expensive and inefficient, so alternatives are eagerly sought.

Ofcom won't be able to hand over the bands until early next year, following final EU ratification of the standards and the MoD handing over the slices it owns. There'll be another consultation before then, given that it's almost impossible to get bands back once they're in the public domain, but all things being equal we should have more space in which to play by this time next year. ®

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