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Ofcom and Queen Mary University of London publish white paper on reflective surfaces in wireless networks

Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, in collaboration with Queen Mary, has published a white paper exploring the potential role and spectrum-regulatory issues of reflective surfaces in future wireless networks. 

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Professor Yang Hao, who led the collaborative efforts from Queen Mary University of London, said: "The white paper examines the fundamental behaviuor of reflective surfaces in wireless networks. It emphasises a number of potential technical challenges and regulatory implications that need to be addressed before reflective surfaces can be widely deployed."

This is particularly relevant in light of the Government's commitment to providing a "world-class digital infrastructure" for the UK. The Government has outlined plans to invest £5 billion in upgrading the UK's digital infrastructure, with a focus on improving broadband access.

"Reflective surfaces could play a key role in achieving these objectives, by providing a cost-effective and efficient way to improve wireless coverage in areas that are currently underserved," said Professor Hao. "However, it is important to carefully consider the potential challenges and implications of this technology before it is rolled out in large-scale deployments to avoid causing harm to existing services."

One of the key challenges posed by reflective surfaces is the risk of creating unwanted interference for other spectrum users. Their ability to reflect and redirect radio waves can disrupt signals from other transmitters or receivers, potentially hindering communication.

Another challenge lies in the potential for reflective surfaces to shadow signals for users behind them. The reflected waves can essentially block the direct signal from the transmitter, particularly in areas with dense structures or clutter, hindering connectivity for individuals located behind the reflective surface.

To address these challenges, the white paper recommends that further research is needed to examine the performance of reflective surfaces and to develop mitigation techniques for interference. The paper recognises that reflective surfaces have potential benefits, but further work is required by regulatory field experts to understand the regulatory implications for their deployment, especially in environments where multiple independent networks and services coexist.

Ofcom said that "This research highlights the value of collaboration and putting academic skills and expertise to questions that may shape future technology. Ofcom has always been at the forefront of technological advances, and we hope that this research encourages other universities to work with us on more deep technology-regulatory research questions that will have a direct and practical impact on the sectors we regulate, such as the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors."

The paper suggests that Ofcom will continue to engage with stakeholders and monitor any relevant development of this technology, including any standardisation development.

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