Ofcom is preparing to give Internet of Things devices access to a dedicated subsection of spectrum to ensure they don’t interfere with other devices. According to the regulator’s proposals, it plans to create an entirely new category of license specifically for IoT/machine-to-machine (M2M) communications.

The new Internet of Things license won’t be in addition to the existing licenses offered by Ofcom however, with the regulator planning to ditch its current ‘business radio’ licenses in favour of one dedicated for the Internet of Things.

According to Gartner, 6.4 billion connected ‘things’ will be in use in 2016 – with the UK likely to make up a significant percentage of that figure. In fact, Ofcom estimates that there are over 40m previously unconnected devices now able to communicate and share data via IoT in the UK alone.

With such a growing demand for IoT devices, it’s little wonder why Ofcom is choosing to act sooner rather than later – with IoT figures set to skyrocket in the next few years.

To address the demand Ofcom has announced that it will be allocating 10MHz of VHF spectrum in the 55-68MHz, 70.5-71.5MHz and 80.5-81.5MHz bands. That spectrum will unlikely be adopted by IoT devices using ZigBee or Z-Wave however, with those technologies both operating at 868MHz in Europe and 915MHz in the US.

Despite existing technologies using higher frequencies, Ofcom believes that IoT devices would benefit most from long-range frequencies that are offered in the lower range. That’s because they consume much less power and are capable of travelling long distances – ideal for rural applications or integrating IoT devices in large estates.

Despite replacing the BR licenses with new licenses dedicated to the Internet of Things, Ofcom expects business to remain as usual – with it simply more a case of rebranding than revolutionising.

“There was no evidence to suggest our existing BR licence products were unsuitable for M2M/IoT purposes,” Ofcom said in its consultation response. “However, we recognise that this may not be clear to stakeholders.”

“To address this issue we will be launching a new licence product later this year that will replace our existing BR products and make specific provision for M2M/IoT applications.

“In concert with this measure we will also launch a dedicated information and application web page for those seeking spectrum access for the IoT. We believe these measures will clarify the wide range of spectrum which is currently available to facilitate IoT,” it said.

The new licenses are not expected to launch until later in 2016 with the regulator continuing to offer BR licenses up until that date. The UK regulator also sees no reason to bring that date forward, as it does not currently consider spectrum availability to be ‘a barrier to the development of the IoT in the short to medium term’.

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