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London to get access to 72 MHz unlicensed radio spectrum

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September 9, 2013

In 2014, people in London England will get access to 72 MHz unlicensed radio spectrum, all in the prime sub-1 GHz band, as its wireless country regulator Ofcom prepares to open some TV airwaves to anyone with a working database.

Ofcom's new plans on opening up White Space frequencies pinpoints London as the biggest winner thanks to the presence of the Crystal Palace transmitter, which transmits TV frequencies to most of the capital, leaving the signals used by neighbouring towns empty.

Less well structured is Glasgow, where the primary transmitter is too far from the town centre and leaves only about 60 percent of its citizens with 27 MHz of shiny new radio spectrum that will be available to nine in ten British households sometime early next year, if all goes according to plans.

The 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi band is 83 MHz wide and has changed how the British perceive mobility. Wireless provider 'Three' runs a national mobile network with only 74.1 MHz, so the prospect of a similarly-sized chunk of radio spectrum falling into public hands early next year can be viewed as exciting.

Overall, White Space radio uses frequencies which are being used somewhere else, but are locally empty, so some management is necessary. The frequencies used to transmit TV in Slough are different from those used at Crystal Palace, to avoid interference, so the Slough frequencies are empty in Islington where they can be used for short-range wireless or point-to-point links.

On booting up, a White Space access point contacts Ofcom to ask for a list of approved databases, then contacts another database with its location and the radio protocol it would like to use.

The database then responds with a suitable frequency and power level which the access point passes on to connecting devices.

It may sound complicated but it works. White Space devices, and the associated databases, have been operating in the U.S. since early this year. Britain is a lot smaller and more reliant on Freeview (digital terrestrial TV) which stands to lose most if it all goes haywire.

So the industry has been waiting to see just how conservative Ofcom would be in permitting the utilization of TV White Space, and it turns out that Ofcom isn't feeling very conservative at all.

In its consultation, Ofcom outlines the power it's minded to permit, and how it will protect Program Makers and Special Events from being interfered with.

PMSE users have been wandering in the TV White Space segment for several decades already, and are concerned of the newcomers, so they'll get priority access.

That simply means that anyone living near Wimbledon should be aware that their White Space allocation will reduce significantly during Special Events.

Ofcom says that the U.K. has 24 such events annually, so perhaps it's not the ideal technology for streaming sports coverage.

Additionally, White Space users will also be banned from approaching within 14 meters of a PMSE user. Their device will have to switch frequencies, or switch off, which should keep them outside the studio or theatre.

You might reasonably ask what happens when someone tweaks their White Space equipment to use the whole band, knocking out TV reception and radio mics alike, but in reality, that's already happening.

White Space equipment is required to be tamperproof and resistant to replacement firmware, which might make it more difficult to modify than for example existing Wi-Fi routers.

Wi-Fi offers better range and capacity, but few people bother. Ofcom's more relaxed approach is down to the temporary nature of White Space allocations.

Over the next six months, Ofcom will be running some trials, in London and elsewhere, to see just how much interference these White Space devices kick out, and perhaps more importantly whether anyone cares.

If all goes well, Britain could be enjoying a spectral bonus by March 2014. We will keep you posted.

In other mobile news

Apple's device designers have had plenty of time to determine how to eliminate the unwanted trade-offs in having a larger screen, and for now, it appears that there's demand from the marker to go to a larger screen size.

As Apple gets ready to roll out its next generation iPhone 5 on Sep. 10, speculators have already moved on to what the company will do next with its next generation of the iPhone.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Apple is now testing various screen sizes, ranging from 4.8 inches to an incredible 6 inches, and KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicts that Apple will increase the iPhone screen size from 4 inches to 4.5 or 5 inches sometime in 2014, it is reported.

And while Samsung offers a broader array of screen sizes, Apple has stuck to its "smaller is better" design philosophy, claiming the superior one-handed usage of the 4-inch screen of the iPhone.

And Apple has gone cheaper with the forthcoming iPhone 5C, and the company can continue to improve the components inside and the iOS software, but larger screen sizes now appear to be in style, and new trend seems to be growing in the last few weeks.

Research firm IHS Suppli found that phone screen sizes have increased on average from about 2 inches in 2008 to more than 4 inches in 2013, with Samsung leading the way, and Apple a close second.

Another market research firm, TrendForce, estimates that Samsung sold about 71 million smartphones through its distributors in the second quarter of 2013, including 23 million Galaxy S4s with a 5-inch screen.

For its part, Apple sold 31.2 iPhones in the same quarter, including a good portion of the aging iPhone 4 and 4S models with a 3.5-inch screen.

In an informal survey, CNET asked readers what size screen they would want in an iPhone. Just 21 percent of the respondents were satisfied with the current 4-inch screen, and about 60 percent preferred screens larger than 4.7 inches.

In April, Apple CEO Tim Cook offered his justification for sticking with the 4-inch iPhone screen size. "My view continues to be that the iPhone 5 has the absolute best display in the industry. And we always strive to create the very best display for our customers. Some users value large screen size, while others value other factors such as resolution, color quality, white balance, brightness, reflectivity, screen longevity, power consumption, portability, compatibility with apps, and many things. Our competitors had made some significant trade-offs in many of these areas in order to ship a larger display. We would not ship a larger display iPhone while these trade-offs exist," said Cook.

Apple's design engineers have had enough time to figure out how to eliminate the unwanted trade-offs in having a bigger screen. And there's plenty of market demand to go bigger in the second half of next year, when the next round of iPhones is likely to launch.

In other mobile news

With the launch of the new Galaxy Gear smartwatch, Samsung is telling the world that it's done being a follower. Of course, whether the market will agree or not is still unclear at this time, but the Korean electronics giant still wants to make a strong point about its new plans.

And it's got a lot of observers watching closely. Samsung has had a bit of the 'Napoleon complex' lately when it comes to mobile devices, especially in the field of 'wearables'.

Like it or not, Samsung is still the world's biggest mobile handset vendor, and it looks like it will remain in that number one position for at least another year or two. However, Samsung is forever compared to Apple and often found to be lacking in one way or the other.

Either it's the flimsy feel of its devices or the hard-knocks lesson that its features, like eye scrolling, don't always run as smoothly as expected. Most of all, it's the perception that Samsung is a me-too company, creating devices already perfected by Apple, and that doesn't always bode well for some.

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But it's so-called 'Gear' represents Samsung's chance to break with the view that it's simply a fast follower. No, Samsung isn't the first company to release a smartwatch, and Gear isn't its first attempt in that market either. But of all the smartwatch makers out there, Samsung is the only one with a large user base, marketing resources, and brand awareness to actually gain some traction.

Some say that 'Gear' is Samsung's opportunity to show that it can make something innovative and establish itself as a leader early on. In that, it seems to have succeeded in a certain way. This time around, it's Apple playing catch-up, or so it would seem.

Apple has hinted many times at future device categories, but it's uncertain when it may launch a wearable or what the product exactly will do.

Some market observers have speculated about an iWatch release either later this year or next. In the meantime, Samsung will face a bevy of rivals already in the market.

And that rapidly growing list includes Sony, Pebble, and Martian, and chipmaker Qualcomm launched its own smartwatch just yesterday, in case you didn't take note. Even if those don't have high sales numbers, they have been generating plenty of buzz, and that's what all those market players need to get traction.

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Source: Ofcom.

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