Monetizing the spectrum: improved connectivity through white spaces

For most national regulators, funding is hard to come by. Regulatory authorities rely on multiple approaches to carrying out their responsibilities while maintaining independence and operational transparency.  

Regulatory licenses, fees, and penalties are the obvious choices; however, the white space spectrum market is one fertile ground for monetizing the spectrum. 

The white space spectrum market 

White space is the term used for sections of the radio spectrum not used by existing licenses—at all times or in all geographic locations. For example, after analog television stations are discontinued, segments of the spectrum become available. In the UK, Ofcom reassigned the television stations operating between 798–862MHz for LTE mobile use. 

In 2021, the Global TV White Space Spectrum market was valued at US$ 84 million. Between 2023 and 2030, it is estimated to rise considerably, with a compound annual growth rate of 22%.  

Due to the growing demand for connectivity, identifying white spaces can hugely benefit society, particularly by improving urban connectivity, increasing IoT connectivity at major events, increasing internet access in rural areas, and ensuring emergency communications during emergencies. 

Improving connectivity in urban areas 

White spaces are commonly found in lower frequency bands (UHF and VHF) (470–790 MHz in Europe and 470–698 MHz in the USA). Signals in this frequency range provide better coverage as they can penetrate obstacles such as walls, buildings, and trees. This extended range is advantageous for planners wanting to create wireless communication networks in urban areas. 

Furthermore, allocating white spaces can play a pivotal role in mitigating the significant risk of interference that arises in densely populated urban areas where numerous wireless networks coexist in close proximity. Reducing interference directly translates to enhanced connectivity for users, undoubtedly improving the overall quality of service. 

Also, as the demand for cleaner and more reliable spectrum continues to rise, there is a likelihood of increased competition for frequency licenses. This heightened demand could result in telecommunications companies, wireless internet service providers, and emerging technologies paying higher costs when acquiring these licenses, which is advantageous for regulatory authorities. 

Enhancing IoT connectivity in smart spaces 

A smart space could be anything from an office building to a museum to a large exhibition center. Relying on wireless connectivity and automated systems that are connected to people’s devices, such as laptops and cellphones, smart spaces use technology to make people’s lives more efficient.  

IoT devices are the foundation of smart spaces, and they rely on wireless communication protocols such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, LoRa, NB-IoT. The more IoT devices, the smarter the space; however, network congestion caused by their thirst for bandwidth can negatively affect the performance of all connected devices, frustrating users.  

By identifying white spaces in specific geographic areas, regulatory authorities can provide and license additional frequency resources, allowing smart spaces to accommodate more IoT devices by providing more bandwidth and reducing congestion. With better connectivity and data exchange within the smart space, license fee payers will likely be prepared to pay increased rates. 

Increasing connectivity in rural areas 

For the past decade, national spectrum regulators, including Ofcom and the FCC, have worked on projects to use white space as a tool to provide broadband to rural areas. Providers can extend their coverage areas by deploying wireless communication networks in white spaces. This has been instrumental in providing connectivity to remote and unconnected locations.  

While European and North American countries have developed programs to take advantage of white spaces in rural areas, other areas often do not have such advanced solutions. Finding white spaces will become more significant as the spectrum becomes increasingly congested in these areas.  

Using white spaces to provide broadband services in rural areas has several benefits. Most importantly, using white spaces requires less infrastructure than traditional cellular networks, reducing costs. Decreased costs increase connectivity in rural areas, which can lead to several socio-economic benefits, including improved access to education, healthcare, and advanced agricultural practices. 

Ensuring emergency communications during emergencies 

Emergencies stretch the limits of communication networks: an overload in traffic could mean traditional communication channels become congested. However, as white spaces hold unused frequencies, they can provide additional bandwidth and serve as reliable communication backups, helping the emergency services communicate without interference.  

White space devices can automatically detect and access available frequencies, allowing for resilient communication even when other channels are compromised. They can also be allocated as dedicated emergency communication channels, ensuring frequencies can only be used by the emergency services and reducing the risk of communication failures. 

As signals in white spaces can travel longer distances than signals in higher bands and penetrate obstacles more effectively than other frequencies, emergency communications using white spaces can reach further distances to more remote areas. 

Overcoming problems with reassigning white spaces 

Signals transmitted in white spaces have many propagation advantages, allowing them to reach areas that are challenging for signals in higher frequencies. 

However, using white spaces brings many technical challenges, mainly ensuring the licensed transmissions are not degraded. As such, regulatory authorities must strictly design and monitor programs.  

Therefore, relying on low-cost handheld spectrum analyzer solutions with limited frequency range, low accuracy, and no real-time signal identification and interference mitigation is not ideal. Low-cost analyzers may have limited data logging and documentation capabilities, making it challenging to record and analyze collected data for reporting and decision-making. 

To ensure precise measurements, highly sensitive RF receivers used in conjunction with real-time monitoring software can provide a powerful toolset for optimizing white space use while ensuring regulatory compliance and maintaining the quality of wireless communications.  

Through real-time spectrum monitoring, regulators can dynamically adapt and adjust white space use. They can precisely identify available spaces (even narrow and intermittent white space opportunities) and detect any sources of interference—even from weak signals—to be mitigated.  


Raising money is one of the most significant challenges faced by national regulators. The white spaces spectrum is a growing market and presents many opportunities for authorities to monetize their spectrum, promote efficient spectrum use, and provide increased connectivity. Well-structured white space programs can also address various critical needs, from enhancing urban and rural connectivity to ensuring robust emergency communications. 

Jaimie Brzezinski

Jaimie Brzezinski is Head of Content for CRFS. His specialty is turning highly technical ideas into engaging narratives. He has 15+ years of experience in writing technical content and building global teams of subject matter experts.

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