After six months of consultation, UK communications regulator Ofcom has starting laying out formal plans, a regulatory framework and ambitions of how it sees the country benefiting from the Internet of Things.
As a first, and seemingly small step the organization—which governs and allocates the crucial spectrum that all things IoT, including smart homes, automated farms, machine to machine (M2M) communications and connected vehicles rely on—last week ruled that it will reserve a portion of the VHF radio spectrum for a variety of IoT applications, and that these frequencies could be accommodated without impacting existing spectrum users.
Specifically, it plans to allocate 10MHz of VHF spectrum in the 55-68MHz, 70.5-71.5MHz and 80.5-81.5 MHz bands, which the regulator suggests is ideal for long-range communications in rural parts of the country.
At the power level and frequencies being discussed, we are looking at low bandwidth applications such as using wirelessly connected sensors for ‘smart’ farming, where fertilizer and water are automatically spread across a farm to increase efficiency; intelligent traffic management systems; and smart energy grids that can match power generated to electricity needs.
These frequencies are now typically used for civil two-way radio communications by private individuals, factories, taxi firms, hospitals and others. They currently need a Business Radio (BR) license that anyone can apply for. Any new license will replace the existing BR license, and should be available later this year.
During the consultation process, it became clear there were “misconceptions” as to whether BR licenses could only be used for voice only communications and not for data transfers. Ofcom said this has now been clarified.
“We believe these measures will clarify the wide range of spectrum which is currently available to facilitate IoT,” the Ofcom statement stresses. No more ‘misconceptions’, then, that VHF is just for voice.
The message in the document is clearly that Ofcom believes that lots of the scarce spectrum is seriously underused and not even used for the most productive and economical applications.
The regulator also announced it would create a new category of spectrum license specifically for the IoT, the aim being to encourage investment and innovation in the sector. And just to stress the point and make things easier, it has launched a dedicated information and application web page for anyone seeking spectrum access for IoT/M2M
Using the farming application as a case study in the document, Ofcom outlines how widely available, low-cost sensors could be sown into fields to measure moisture levels at different depths below ground. Data is then beamed wirelessly using one of these soon to be available frequencies to a central control system, which would activate sprinklers at the most appropriate rates with minimum waste.
The benefits? Better tasting, more nutritious crops produced more efficiently and using less fertilizer and fewer pesticides. And, hopefully, costing less and thus able to feed more of us on the planet.
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