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Radio waves freed up when the FM spectrum switches to digital could be used to deliver rural broadband, Ofcom has proposed.

The communications regulator believes so-called 'white space devices', which are currently being trialled for use in the gaps freed up by the digital TV switchover, could work just as well in the FM radio band.

These devices could use radio frequencies to deliver mobile broadband in very sparsely populated areas, Ofcom said.

All large-scale radio stations are expected to switch to digital and cease broadcasting on analogue FM radio, with smaller stations expected to remain on FM. There is no formal deadline for the digital radio switchover but the government has pencilled in 2015.

Ofcom said the switch would free up as much as 50 per cent of the capacity currently used to deliver FM radio services.

The technology works by identifying unoccupied radio waves – 'white spaces' – to broadcast and receive wireless signals.

In contrast to other wireless technologies, like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, white space devices are designed to use lower frequencies, traditionally reserved for TV and radio. Signals at these frequencies travel further and more easily through walls.

Ofcom's Chief Executive, Ed Richards, said: "We believe that any release of new spectrum has great potential to enable innovation and growth in new applications and services.

"Spectrum is a resource that is in huge demand, fuelled by the recent explosion in smart phones and other wireless technologies."

But Mr Richards warned that there is only a limited amount of spectrum to go around, meaning more innovative solutions are needed as to how it can be used.

"White space devices could offer an effective solution," he stated.

Recently, the BBC, BT, Microsoft and BSkyB were among the organisations who formed a white space consortium.

The consortium is trialling several technologies to see how white space could be used to develop communications and information services.

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