The WiFi revolution that could take traffic off our roads: Ofcom outlines plans for future use of radio spectrum

Futuristic plans that could see technology monitoring patients from a distance unveiled

Media Editor

Plans to use wireless technology to ease traffic congestion, regulate motorway speeds and monitor people’s personal health were set out on Wednesday by the broadcast regulator Ofcom.

In a briefing, the Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards set out plans for the future use of radio spectrum, which he said was of “vital” importance to the UK economy, contributing an estimated £52 billion a year.

Explaining that spectrum supply was under pressure from rising demand from smartphone and tablet use he outlined futuristic projects for maximising the resource. Over the next six months, partners including Microsoft, BT and Google are to take part in road-testing “white space” technology to exploit currently unused spaces in the broadcasting frequency band.

In one trial, BT will partner with technology company Neul and the Department of Transport to fit cars with transmitters in order to gather data on traffic congestion on the A14 between Felixstowe and Cambridge. In another, Microsoft will be using white space to provide new access to Wi-Fi in Glasgow, the city with the lowest take up of broadband in the UK.

Ofcom also revealed plans for greater use of M2M (Machine to Machine) technology, which it said could use slivers of radio spectrum in sensors in cars to communicate with similar devices in other vehicles in order to automate the flow of traffic on motorways. Ofcom claimed that such “intelligent transport systems” could save the UK economy £1 billion a year.

The regulator also predicted that health services could monitor patients remotely by issuing them with “wearable monitors” that measured heart rate and blood pressure, or “intelligent pill boxes”, which could detect whether they had taken their tablets and automatically request a repeat prescription.

“Spectrum is the raw material that will underpin the next revolution in wireless communications,” said Steve Unger, the Ofcom chief technology officer. “In the future it won’t be just mobiles and tablets that are connected to the internet; billions of other things including cars, crops, coffee machines and cardiac monitors will also be connected, using tiny slivers of spectrum to get online.”

As Ofcom warned of the limited supply of spectrum, Richards spoke of the the need for “efficient utilisation of a scarce resource” and said that 25 per cent of UK spectrum was currently only used by the Government sector. He said the Ministry of Defence had agreed to free up more than 100MHz of spectrum which he anticipated would be taken up by mobile broadband suppliers.

Richards said that Ofcom was already planning for the launch of a new 5G (fifth generation) mobile network and defended the “right decision” to allow EE to launch a 4G service ahead of commercial rivals last year. He said there had been a “blip” in the UK’s mobile communications growth ahead of the 4G launch but that a competitive market was now being established. “I think we are in a better position than is often suggested.”

He complained that a decision taken before the days of Ofcom to launch 3G in 2004 in only 80 per cent of the country had caused lasting problems. “In my view, in hindsight, that was quite clearly the wrong decision. It set up the problem of 20 per cent of people not being able to get the service.” He said that 98 per cent of the country would have 4G coverage by 2017 at the latest.

Sensor sensibility: Some applications

Farming

Sensors are sown to measure moisture at different levels. Data is sent to a central system so water can be sent to areas in need at rates that best permeate the ground. The need for pesticides and fertilisers is reduced. At harvest time, sensors watch the temperature of cereals and insect activity.

Transport

Road sensors can recognise congestion and instigate speed restrictions. The same system could send messages to cars to give alternative directions. Wheel rotation sensors can speak to similar devices on other vehicles to automate the flow of traffic and eliminate the pattern of traffic accelerating and quickly braking.

Health

Sensors in the home can monitor lack of activity and wet floors or other signals that someone might need help. Wearable monitors can send blood pressure and heart rate readings to health professionals. Intelligent pill-boxes alert doctors if patients have not taken tablets – and can order repeat prescriptions.

Energy

Individual electric devices are all monitored by electricity companies and the use of certain devices is restricted early in the evening to reduce demand for power in peak times. Reliance on large power stations is reduced,  along with greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Professional Sales Trainee - B2B

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: First things first - for the av...

Guru Careers: Creative Designer / Graphic Designer

Competitive: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Creative Designer / Graphic Design...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Executive / Marketing Assistant

£18 - 23k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Executive / Assistant is n...

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - ECommerce

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers' in retail...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map